THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 15th October, 2014
The Original Theatre Company – who brought us the superlative Birdsong – return with their rip-roaring adaptation of Jerome K Jerome’s classic comic novel, a book which is one of the forerunners of modern British humour. Craig Gilbert’s script uses great swathes of Jerome, interspersed with quick-fire contemporary jokes and visual gags. The result is a delightful concoction for which the phrase laugh-a-minute is inadequate, and I am delighted to be able to see it again.
Three men walk into a pub. Two are there to support the third, who is to give a talk detailing their recent boating trip up the River Thames. The talk is abandoned in favour of a more physical re-enactment and so, using what there is at hand in the back room of the Elusive Pelican, the trio embark on a lively, inventive and witty piece of narrative theatre.
Alastair Whatley is J, the would-be lecturer, urbane and, I suspect, louche, while his companions (Paul Westwood as George and Tom Hackney as Harris) hurl themselves around the stage. Between them the three men populate the tale with a multitude of characters. At the piano is Nelly (Anna Westlake) who provides a silent-movie type soundtrack for the action sequences and accompaniment whenever they burst into music-hall songs (the one about cucumbers is a particular favourite). In short, they are a skilled and talented quartet whose comic timing is nothing short of perfect.
Victoria Spearling’s artfully cluttered and cosy pub set makes a remarkable substitute for the banks of the Thames and Alan Valentine’s lighting is literally ‘spot-on’. Craig Gilbert directs his own script and doesn’t miss a trick. The performance is so detailed and fast-paced, you hardly dare blink in case you miss something. Thankfully, there are moments of quiet and the tone becomes bittersweet, rather than an unrelenting barrage of madcap silliness.
It’s a play about what three men did on their holidays, but there are undercurrents of other things: friendship, for one, and a relaxed way of looking at life that is rather appealing. The evening is a holiday for the audience.
Do yourself a favour and get on board. Three Men in a Boat plays at the Belgrade until Saturday. Tickets are available from the box office on 024 7655 3055