Three Men in a Boat

Jerome K Jerome
York Theatre Royal and Riding Lights Theatre Company
York Theatre Royal
(2008)

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If you are looking for cutting edge, hard hitting, social commentary or an intriguing mental challenge in your theatre, this production is undoubtedly not for you. This is literally a gentle, comic stroll down the river with some nice props and an energetic cast who burst into song at any given occasion. When someone in the row behind you comments, "If it hadn't been for the boat, I would've fallen asleep" and this is only at the interval, you realise that the sinking feeling you have for the second half is not held by you alone.

However, the evening was obviously roundly enjoyed by the vast majority of the rest of the audience and the cast took four curtain calls with a fifth and final eruption of applause for the pianist (Stephen Guy Daltry) who had merely returned to the stage to play the audience out. Fans of the book by Jerome K Jerome will love this production, despite the lack of Montmorency the dog, as will anyone wishing to see a beautiful piece of what is effectively Victorian Music Hall.

Jerome, Harris and George are three friends who tire of doing nothing in their comfortable surroundings at home and decide to take a holiday on the river to relieve themselves from the stress of their leisurely lives. And so follows a uniquely organised trip where every man talks more about his contribution to the work load than ever he puts in. Various falls, adventures and mishaps follow them along the way as the three friends encounter other river-goers, get in the way of steam boats, hear fantastical tales about fishing and enjoy their culinary disasters. The arrival of the secret ingredient to George's hearty stew in the second half produced gasps of surprise from the audience.

And so we come to one of the best things about the show - the design. The comic sight that is provided by a stage hand begrudgingly pushing two Victorian ladies on a platform from left to right past a stationary boat to complete the picture of the flowing journey down the Thames is delightful. This is one visual treat among many that Sean Cavanagh's innovative set provides and it becomes a joy to watch how he will solve the next problem of the waterless stage.

Along side this the three main characters succeed with excellent physical comedy and timing, a highlight of which is Jonathon Race's performance as Harris and his masterly presentation of the comic song. They are joined by a talented chorus of four who change costumes more times than there are scenes. Among these Alan Francis' character of the Graveyard Keeper (or Tour Guide) is outstanding and is making me laugh aloud, even just remembering it. The entire cast are involved in telling the fantastical story of the strong cheeses, with lovely portrayals of the train passengers reaction to the strong smelling foodstuffs, which is only ruined at the end by the most innocuous song I have ever heard.

If you are looking for a light, unchallenging, evening of frivolous fun (or perhaps you're already missing the pantomime) then this is the perfect evening out.

Running until 26th April

Reviewer: Cecily Boys