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Three Men in a Boat

4
Seen at The Mill at Sonning
By Sonny - 15th Jun 2024

If you were to make a literary comparison to village cricket, you could do a lot worse than suggest Three Men in a Boat. Jerome K Jerome’s wildly successful comic novel seems to be the epitome of late 1800’s Englishness… well of a certain class.

It’s a simple tale of three well-heeled friends on a boating holiday, enjoying each other’s company, reminiscing, and telling tales. It’s a semi-autobiographical story narrated by the author (George Watkins), featuring his two dear friends, George (James Bradshaw) and Harris (Sean Rigby) and his (made up for the book) pet dog, Montmorency.

Tired with work and fed up with city life the gents decide to take a short vacation. Struggling to come up with a suitable destination, they decide to undertake a boating trip along the Thames from West London to Oxford, stopping for the evenings at various towns and villages along the route.

Very little happens on the journey. The men chat aimlessly, make observations, discuss their lives, tell stories, and take it in turn rowing their little boat. Like the aforementioned village cricket match, it’s a gentle paced, meandering journey, with equally gentle and meandering conversations.

The joy of Three Men in a Boat is the language. Fans of Wodehouse will not be disappointed. The three men would not be out of place in a Jeeves & Wooster caper, each being equally well spoken and foppish. The cast throw themselves into the characters with great relish and trot out the lyrical prose with great gusto. Each actor is wonderfully suited to their character and delivers engaging performances. Their comradery and interplay feel genuine and gives the overall friendship a loveable authenticity.

The Mill have a knack of using their stage area to great effect, and this is no exception. Sean Cavanagh’s set design is a minor miracle of simplicity. The opening scene in a London house is depicted by two armchairs and a wooden drinks cabinet. However, once the doors open the inside transform into a riverbank backdrop with a video projection showing some of the sights. The bottom section of the cupboard becomes the boat. It’s set on hidden wheels and slid around the stage by the actors discreetly moving their legs. Creatively simple but visually impactful.

Joe Harmston direction feels effortless. Watching the play makes you feel like you’re on that holiday with the three men. Nothing feels rushed, it’s all rather languid but gives the script space to shine.

This is a piece that is firmly of its time, but somehow resonant to today. In a world of constant engagement, the idea of slowly bobbing along a waterway with nothing but the sights that pass your eyes and conversation with the people physically in front of you is intoxicatingly alluring.

There’s much to enjoy in this production, but at the end of it all, there’s a sense of so what? There’s no great reveal or dramatic ending. It’s just three chaps chewing the fat on a boat. And like a cricket match that ends in a draw, you relish the journey and bemoan the destination.

Sonny Waheed


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Viewings over the last 14 days
 
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