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This modern day adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ is simply brilliant. Quick witted, lively and clever, this piece of anecdotal storytelling is brought to life with the assistance of a beautifully played piano score and three very animated actors.
I was slightly apprehensive as I first viewed the set; visually it is stunning – portraying a backroom of an old public house. But how could this take us on a journey along the River Thames? I had visions of listening to a bored actor, sitting at the bar, tell a lengthy story of a boat trip for two hours but to my delight it materialised into something so much more.
From the beginning the audience are very much a part of the show – playing the role of the Royal Geological Society. The actors continue to break the fourth wall throughout, very effectively, though not once corpsing or losing their characters. The stage is constantly filled with their energy and presence, so essential when storytelling, to create the imagery needed for the audience to picture the described scene exactly.
Each actor plays a variety of roles, though Alastair Whatley playing Jerome or ‘J’ multi-rolls less so, as he is the narrator and protagonist of the story. He keeps it moving throughout with excellent comic timing, aided greatly by his fellow actors. Tom Hackney, playing Harris and Christopher Brandon playing George, both portray their various characters with ease and style.
Notably, Tom’s Scottish landlord and Christopher’s old man characters are their finest. Each has the house in fits of laughter and rightly so. All of the actors; including musical director Sue Appleby – who is on stage throughout – click incredibly well together and have clearly made the connection as a company so vital to the delivery of Craig Gilbert’s hilarious adaptation and direction.
Craig Gilbert himself deserves a round of applause for bringing this comedy up-to-date while managing to retain its old-age humour. Throughout he injects new humour with amusing reference to contemporary terms and events such as ‘losing on penalties’, and the Barclay’s scandal. And, deliberate or not, the use of a well-known piece of music, very topical at the moment, to close Act 1 is also effective.
His direction must also be highlighted, for not once is the action static or unbelievable. Furthermore, the use of props is highly entertaining; one scene shows the state of the weather, an increasingly ferocious hail storm, by throwing first ping pong balls, then tennis balls and finally a football at J.
The show, never taking itself too seriously, is a fantastic evening’s entertainment and deservedly closed to rapturous applause. There are so many positive things I could say about the acting, direction, music and technicality but I don’t wish to give too much away. Instead, I strongly suggest you take a trip down the River Thames with J, George and Harris and see for yourself.