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18 September 2012


Three Men in a Boat
Palace Theatre, Southend
Tuesday 18th September 2012
Jerome's timeless tale of three young friends' eventful trip along the Thames has lost none of it's humour over time.  His dry wit, careful observation and ability to locate the ridiculous in the seemingly everyday, are traits that could describe any British stand-up comedian or sitcom writer working today.  British being key - this is a very British story with a typically British sense of humour.
Craig Gilbert's adaptation and direction places the action in a well designed pub (again - what could be more British?), with the men weaving the yarn of their eventful holiday directly to the audience via an imagined relocation of a National Geographic talk.  The addition of a couple of choreographed fights, which needed to flow more smoothly rather than look like a dance to wring out the laughs, a few silly songs and some slapstick and what more could the discerning British theatre-goer need.

The three men, Alastair Whatley as J, Tom Hackney as Harris and Christopher Brandon as George, worked very well together.  Each captured the differences in his own character, as well as understanding the importance of the ensemble.  They were joined in the pub by the silent Nelly, Sue Appleby accompanying on the piano.  A slightly inexplicable additional character - she was not part of the invented conference that was the reason for us all being in the pub, nor did she serve any purpose in the telling of the story, simply acting as an on-stage MD - but her presence was integrated into a few moments of the reenacting of the various events and she offered some lovely facial expressions when reacting to the madcap antics going on around her.

The spirit of the novel was entirely honored, and once the quiet Tuesday night audience had tuned in they seemed both receptive and appreciative.  I would like to have seen this production in a smaller scale venue, which may have suited the intimacy of the piece better, but a great night of true theatrical comedy.  This exciting young production company take on Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong next year - a very different, but equally worthy subject matter.

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