13 February 2015

Very disappointing Three Men in a Boat at the Rose Theatre

This should have been a sure-fire hit but it was not because they made the simple mistake of forgetting the book.

I do not normally have much expectation of the plays that I see as by the time I get to see them I have forgotten what it was that made me want to see them but there was no chance of that happening with Three Men in a Boat because it is a book I have read a few times and loved every time.

Their journey along the Thames started at Kingston so it was an obvious thing to go to the Rose Theatre in Kingston to see it. In my keenness to see it I booked early enough to secure a seat I have probably been in before A28 for the perfectly reasonable price of £18.

The evening got off to a bad start as I ran out of time to eat beforehand and the cafe at the Rose does not do evening food, apart from cake which does not really go with beer. Somewhat frustrated I joined the frustratingly long queue for the bar for a bottle of Czech lager (I forget which one, they sell two) and the all too regular packet of peanuts.

The mood was lightened by bumping in to Richard Stickney (who knows a thing or two about boats on the Thames) and by spotting Steve Punt.

There are several ways that a book can be turned in to a play from straight narration to full reinterpretation and this fell somewhere towards the narration end, much as I had seen First Love done. There was a set that was a bar most of the time in which the three men acted out some of the scenes and narrated some others in the "do you remember the time that?" style. A simple approach but there is nothing wrong with that.

The first major sign of a problem came when they were packing for the trip and in suggesting things to take one mentioned an iron and when asked "which one?", replied "any old iron". Queue the bad pun and the song intro. The joke was lame and unsubtle when compared to the gentle nature of the book and the song, the first of several, just did not fit in to my idea of three idle young men drifting along the Thames.

The scenes that I liked the most were those that I remembered from the book but even these had their faults. The Hampton Court Maze story was shorn of much of its detail and the Tin of Pineapple Chunks story must have been very confusing to anybody who did not know it as the written punchline was lost in the visual translation.

I was not a happy bunny at the interval though it is fair to say that the show picked up considerably in the second half and I chuckled a little and even laughed out loud when the pianist got shot. You do not remember that from the book?, well that is my point - the play was reasonably entertaining but that owed little to the genius of the original work. I was hoping for something that captured the mood and the style of Jerome K Jerome's writing but, instead, I got something that veered toward period pantomime. Obviously pantomime has its points and most of the audience around me seemed to be having a jolly time and I heard several of them saying how much they had enjoyed it afterwards.

But not me, I was judging the play against the book that I love and on those grounds it fell well short.

At least I got the chance to have a very quick word with Steve Punt afterwards, even though that amounted to little more than me admitting to stalking him in various radio studios and John Lewis. They say that you should never meet your heroes; that's why.

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