Tag Archives: Jerome K Jerome

In the same 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

Put this in your pipe. Paul Westwood, Tom Hackney and Alastair Whatley

Put this in your pipe. Paul Westwood, Tom Hackney and Alastair Whatley


Messing About on the Water

Derby Theatre, Wednesday 14th November, 2012

Jerome K Jerome’s book is one of the funniest ever written, even now over a century from its original publication. To make a funny stage adaptation presents its own challenges – you can’t just have actors reciting passages from the book – that does the material and the theatrical form no favours. Craig Gilbert’s script for this show retains huge swathes of Jerome, to be sure, but there is also a contemporary sense of humour at work.

The setting is the back room of the Elusive Pelican, the kind of rural pub the heart hankers for, with junk on shelves, mismatched chairs and even a stuffed trout over the door. An Edwardian lady (Sue Appleby) arrives to treat us to a Chopin prelude on the piano. After some rough treatment from a costumed stage hand, her recital begins, only to be interrupted by the arrival of the titular trio, all resplendent in colourful, striped blazers, singing a spirited rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. And so, the music hall approach is established, although ostensibly this is an address to the Royal Geographical Society or some such, given by “J” assisted and hindered by his two friends, George and Harris.

Using handy items from around the pub, they narrate and re-enact the story of their boat trip up the Thames, portraying all the other characters themselves by donning hats etc and contorting their voices in an almost Pythonesque way.

This approach, requiring an enormous amount of energy from the performers, not to mention versatility and physicality, gives rise to a very entertaining piece. The style reminded me of the highly successful stage version of The 39 Steps. (That show even gets a reference at one point!)

Jerome’s narrative is episodic and meandering but as we get further upstream, the modern sense of humour becomes more prevalent. There is flatulence. There are pop culture references to, among other things, Jaws, Titanic and The Good, the Bad & the Ugly… Purists might not like the sound of this, and I confess I was a little taken aback, but the sheer effulgence of the performance won me over. The book is the springboard or rather the launching place, for this show, which is its own animal. But, even with all the silliness and the vulgarity, often it is Jerome’s words that get the biggest laughs.

As “J”, Original Theatre Company founder Alastair Whatley is an affable if arrogant narrator. Tom Hackney’s Harris throws himself around the set with reckless abandon; and Christopher Brandon’s George delivers some of the funniest character cameos – I especially liked his cat and his sexton. The trio – well, the quartet, really – is a tight ensemble – the movement (directed by Mitch Mitchelson) is well-choreographed and funny. The timing is spot on. I especially liked the asides, but also the use of pub-based items to create settings and situations with speed and economy, is highly effective. The action is supported throughout by Appleby at the piano, adding another dimension to the humour, and there is a knowing ‘breaking of the 4th wall” cheekiness to the whole affair.

Craig Gilbert directs his own adaptation. The pace never flags and there is enough contrast of tone to keep the piece feeling fresh. The spirit of the Jerome original survives intact. Original Theatre’s original take on the material is refreshing, hilarious and so well-presented, you forgive them some of their off-colour excesses. Bursting with energy, banter and silliness, it is well worth the price of the ticket to take a trip with these particular three men, their pianist and their little dog too.

But watch out for marauding swans!