Three Men in a Boat

Theater Shorts: Oct. 2009

Columns | David Warren | October 2009

Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat is essentially a collection of amusing anecdotes told by three friends as they make their way up the Thames from London. Whether the novel makes a suitable subject for drama, however, is highly debatable.

On stage at Vienna’s International Theatre, the play follows Harris (Brian Hatfield), his dog Montmorency, George (Jack Babb), and J (Eric Lomas) from the latter’s room, where the three decide that they are suffering from ‘overwork’, through their river trip, beset by a series of disasters, to its premature end at Oxford. As Harris says of one disaster involving an Irish stew:

"I forget the other ingredients, but I know nothing was wasted; and I remember that, towards the end, Montmorency, who had evinced great interest in the proceedings throughout, strolled away with an earnest and thoughtful air, reappearing, a few minutes afterwards, with a dead water-rat in his mouth, which he evidently wished to present as his contribution to the dinner; whether in a sarcastic spirit, or with a genuine desire to assist, I cannot say."

This sort of humour helps pass the time amusingly enough in Jerome’s work, but on the stage it just doesn’t wash. This adaptation was not very funny and that is serious, given that Three Men in a Boat had little purpose other than to amuse its reader. At the best, one would be left wondering what’s the point?, after another scene from the river journey finishes on its note of wet humor, but this production does itself no favors.

Lomas and Hatfield can be held accountable: yes this was the second night, but by stumbling and stuttering, and often clearly forgetting their lines, they did the delivery of the play’s humour, weak I would imagine at the best of times, no favours at all. So, we were left with a play whose only purpose was to amuse, not amusing. One to avoid I think.

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