Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

Three Men in a Boat
 by Jerome K Jerome  adapted by Nick Warburton   directed by Colin Lawrence

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, December 2009

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A Review of the Three Men in a Boat
by Margaret Clark

This very English story originally written as a tourist guide was given to me by my father on my 16th birthday and has long been a favourite. How was Nick Warburton going to transfer the comic situations and colourful characters entwined with the history of the River Thames to the open stage? This was a BAWDS production in association with Combined Actors providing director Colin Lawrence with the cream of a pool of talent. The three boaters seeking exercise, fresh air and quiet were beautifully played by Guy Holmes as J, David Foyle as George and Michael Flintoff as Harris. They provided the solid core of a maypole around which an ensemble of sixteen actors danced. There wasn't a weak link in the chain; the various characters were well drawn and immediately identifiable.
   
An enchanting riverside set, designed by Tony Broscomb, incorporated a boat and cover and a lantern show of Victorian photographs to indicate progress along the river. With water splashes and other sound effects courtesy of Graham Potter, the lighting of a summer afternoon, with the occasional inevitable rain shower, by Edward Hopkins together with the cast's brilliant costumes we were transported to the Victorian leisure activity of boating.  Banjo player Mike Milne evoked the atmosphere of a lazy summer afternoon on the Thames. What more could one desire on a dull December day?

Lacking the time to train and rehearse a live dog, the director went for a stuffed animal operated by each actor in turn to play the part of Montmorency. Over the decades I have formulated a picture of a scamp of the Heinz variety with an intelligent face. The Andrex puppy was miscast. Physical reactions were good but vocally he was too intrusive particularly at the beginning of the play. There was never a single woof, whimper or whine, but only cascades of woofs. Montmorency's performance swung between episodes of overacting and a masterclass in stillness.

The two legged actors worked hard, obviously enjoying the performance and ensured that the succeeding scenes moved smoothly along.  My favourites were all there, Uncle Podger, the train and the cheese, the hopeless promenade around the cleverly staged Maze, the death of Earl Godwin, the frustration with a tin of pineapple, the two drunken men in bed, again ingeniously staged, George's shirt, the toppling photograph, Harris demonstrating that he cannot sing, the Irish stew, the lovely pairing of Mavis Perkins and Nick Warburton as the elderly couple promoting local tombs, and later their meeting of the cat with Montmorency who now quietly and politely redeemed himself from his former boisterousness.

Eventually the boating trio tired of the rain and crept back to civilization at The Alhambra, a rollicking music hall scene to bring down the final curtain. The last sentence in the book gives Montmorency 'a short bark'. At the performance I attended he missed his cue. I'm sorry, Montmorency, but you have a long way to go before comparison with Bill Sykes'  'Bullseye' and Dorothy's 'Toto'.

Last May the Jerome K. Jerome Society deplored the fact that the 150th anniversary of his birth had not been celebrated. This delightful production of Nick's new stage adaptation remedies the situation.

Director, cast and crew are to be congratulated on a joyous production of a lovely script that I hope will become a permanency in the canon of English theatre.