It isn’t essential that all theatre has some sort of purpose, but if that purpose is purely to entertain, it is essential that it does just that. The Original Theatre Company’s dull and unimaginative production of Craig Gilbert’s Three Men in a Boat, however, did not abide by these basic guidelines.
Three Men in a Boat is based on an autobiographical book of the same name, and tells the story of three men taking a sailing trip on the Thames in 1889. Nothing of any consequence whatsoever happens to them, and this is the central fault of the play – it is a story that has no need to be told, and so holds no interest for the audience. The only major event is the seemingly random appearance of a dead body floating in the water – to which the three men respond with a seemingly random sad song, and then continue on with their jollities as if it hadn’t happened. The gaps in the plot (or, lack of plot entirely) are filled with desperate, cheap gags – alternating between basic toilet humour or unoriginal, predictable puns – or bizarre musical interludes.
None of this is to say that the performances were weak – the small cast gave faultless performances, showcasing many talents as well as acting. The vocal performances given by Anna Westlake (as sidelined character Nelly) and Paul Westwood (as George) were particularly impressive, and the overall performance given by Tom Hackney (as Harris), displaying in incredible aptitude for physical comedy, held the show together. The design of the set, too, was just as professional as one would expect from a touring company – so the question that remains is why are a company with such obvious talent wasting time on such a meaningless play?
Three Men in a Boat is at best, dull and unoriginal and at worst, offensive and outdated. There is still room for well-directed, well-written farce in theatre – clearly, as the seats in the Nuffield were still filled by the older generation that one might expect – but, sadly, this production is not it.
Three Men in a Boat will continue touring the UK until November 8th. You can buy tickets and find out more information here.