Simply spiffing

Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K Jerome, Bury Theatre Royal on tour May 23IT'S one of the English language's best-known titles. It has jokes, japes and jollity aplenty, and it lends itself to a super sing-along or two.

Mark Crossley

Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K Jerome, Bury Theatre Royal, on tour until May 28

IT'S one of the English language's best-known titles. It has jokes, japes and jollity aplenty, and it lends itself to a super sing-along or two.

Throw in Old Father Thames, three spiffing chaps - all friendly sorts - and a bottle of scotch or three and Jerome K Jerome's Victorian classic has all the ingredients to make a great English summer's evening at the theatre.


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A bit of a doddle to stage then? Not on your Nelly!

It requires extraordinary energy, a multi-talented cast, fantastic timing and some imagination to pull this one off.

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Luckily, this Theatre Royal touring production is in the hands of Abigail Anderson - who brought Bury St Edmunds a brilliant Twelfth Night earlier this year - and three class acts: Alexander Caine, William Kenning and Simon Yadoo.

On stage are a collection of small wooden benches, and a backdrop fashioned from period-looking oars and a map of the Thames which doubles as the canvas under which the trio sleep in their rowing skiff.

The speed at which the cast move the benches to form the boat, a train, a riverside inn and all manner of other locations is mesmerising. The complicated choreography on top of fast dialogue and multiple rapid changes of characters must have made this a devil of a job to learn, let alone play with such skill to such great effect.

Caine brings to life J's whimsical and warm wanderings which give the book so much light and shade. Kenning, as George, is more of a musical virtuoso than Jerome's original but the play sails along all the better for his interventions with banjo and ukelele. And Yadoo's Harris is a boorish, bull-headed ball of energy who gets some of the best laughs.

They combine with gusto to create a real treat, which begins with all three joining the audience in the stalls, with “how-do-you-dos?” and “splendids!” all round.

The audience are soon holding up platform signs at Waterloo station, becoming tradesmen in Maidenhead as the chaps re-stock the boat - and one lady in the front row even gets given a rope to hold, to stop the boat drifting away.

The first half was such an exhilarating, rib-tickling caper on opening night that it was a slight disappointment that Act Two seemed to peter out rather than get better. The odd line was fluffed, there was one place where cuts to the original text left the dialogue a tad confused, and an ending which left the three friends apparently standing over Montmerency's grave, struck an over-sombre note.

It's true that in the book the heroic terrier is left so down by the rain coming back from Oxford that he even turns down a bit of veal pie, but I seem to recall the last we see of him is peering in at the window of the French restaurant, happy as his human chums tuck into a slap-up supper.

The last 20 minutes notwithstanding, however, this production is largely deserving of anyone's time. It's charming, very funny, cleverly staged and really well performed.

Mark Crossley

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