Floating by from another age

three men in a boat

The men in a pub: George (Paul Westwood)    Harris  passing the time with Jerome (Alastair Whatley) with Harris  (Tom Hackney) in the background.

 

Three Men in a Boat

Malvern Theatres

****

Jerome K. Jerome initially wrote his most successful work, ‘Three Men in a Boat’, in 1889 as a kind of guide book to any would-be leisure boaters who might want to find their way from Kingston to Oxford along the Thames.

He decided to couch it in the form of a kind of ‘blog’ of the trip undertaken by himself and two friends, George and Harris, with the fictitious dog Montmorency.

However the humorous anecdotes and enactment of various incidents along the way become the real focus of the book rather than the information for would-be tourists.

Craig Gilbert's adaptation for the stage produced at the Malvern Theatres this week is a recreation of a bygone world - an upper middle class world of ease and youthful irresponsibility that relies on an educated and sophisticated sense of humour reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's world in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

In reality the production is short of story or plot and relies heavily upon the theatrical and comic skills of a very talented cast. The song and dance routines are music hall entertainment; the quick-fire dialogue and mixture of contrasted characters with their loony sense of humour provide plenty of fun.

George (Paul Westwood)  is the tall gangly ‘John Cleese’ type with the funny walks and weird faces. Harris (Tom Hackney) is short and stocky with effervescent character. Jerome (Alastair Whatley), or J as he is often referred to, is the balancing presence who seems to hold the party together and acts as narrator.

The setting for the narrative remains the back room of the Elusive Pelican Public House in Surrey. The furniture and props are turned around to suggest a variety of places and situations such as the boat on the river. 

In this context there is a young pianist called Nelly acted by Anna Westlake whose talented contribution provides live accompaniment to songs, dances, background atmosphere for dramatic narrative and take-offs of well-known tunes like the theme tune for ‘Chariots of Fire’! She doesn’t speak but her presence and musical contribution are superb!

The casting is excellent with a beautiful balance of eccentricity and physiques. There is a large element of physical theatre/comedy in this show and the team are slick, innovative and thoroughly entertaining. In one memorable scene George prepares an Irish stew to which Montmorency apparently contributes a dead water-rat.

Another element in the production is the involvement of the audience. The cast invite and respond to the audiences contributions, utilise them in a variety of ways and even apologise to them for the odd flat joke that does not fully work!

This production recreates in our imaginations a wonderful trouble-free England from yesteryear. It will appeal to an older generation most especially. It is full of ingenuity, subtle allusion and every trick in the book to compensate for the weakness of the plot-line.

Anachronistic take-offs of films like ‘Titanic’ and ‘Chariots of Fire’ are all adduced to keep the show alive! They are performed with great skill and artifice. As such it is entertaining and by the end we have truly grown fond of these characters with whom we have spent our evening! To 27-09014.

Timothy Crow

23-09-14 

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