Three Men In A Boat

Today Wayne and I saw the play 'Three Men In A Boat'.
The three men in question are J (Jerome.K. Jerome), George, and Harris. Archetypal ‘home counties’ chaps in blazers, the three pals plan to take a boating holiday, along with Montmorency the dog (who is played by an ornament, brought occasionally to life by a canine sound effect).


The quite original premise of this adaptation is that the characters are aware of the audience’s presence, as we are there to listen to a talk on the River Thames. Throughout the production, there are several knowing looks and comments to tell us that the characters are aware they are in a play.
This production of the story also adds an extra character in the form of Nelly the pianist. Played by Sue Appleby, who is also the Musical Director, Nelly is vocally mute, but provides music throughout the story, effectively reflecting the mood and pace of each scene or anecdote.
Alistair Whatley plays the character of ‘J’ and is interestingly also the founder of the theatre company, and the Artistic director. Whilst the other actors play a variety of roles Whatley plays only this character, and acts as our main narrator. Whilst not the strongest singer of the trio, Whatley has a commanding stage presence.


Christopher Brandon plays George, and is notable for his strong singing voice and hilarious character acting, including his portrayals of both the whistling old man at the graveyard and the snooty German cat. Lastly, Tom Hackney’s Harris is the endearing and rather simple member of the group. His physicality and facial expressions were very amusing, as was his melodramatic Scots landlord character.
Despite a few small stumbles over the words, the production was generally well rehearsed and choreographed, with the inclusion of some physical comedy. The set stays same all way through, with imaginary changes of scenery aided by props. This works very effectively, and includes the boat made out of pub furniture, and a shared bed created by holding up a large sheet in front of the actors.
The music hall songs in the production were very good, but it would have been nice to hear some more in the first act. Thankfully, there were a few more in the second act, including a beautiful song about a lost love, that is sung when the body of a woman is seen on the bank. This is a total change of tone to the rest of the play, but works incredibly well, with just Brandon’s voice at first, then with an accompanying accordion.
This production tries to mix the traditional with the modern. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it does not. Some of which are very funny, such as a ‘generation game’ style memory game or the ricochet bullet that hits Nelly. However, others strike the wrong tone. The ‘Titanic’ spoof did not work. The end of the performance was camped up to the song ‘Rock the Boat’ which was a great finishing touch.
This production works best when it celebrates traditional roots, whilst remaining knowing and tongue-in-cheek. Overall, it is a highly enjoyable play, but it is a strange hybrid that does not seem entirely sure what it is, and sadly in some places not all the different elements quite fit together.
Nevertheless, the cast and company are undoubtedly talented, and this adaptation is largely successful. I would certainly go along to another of their productions with interest.