Messing About On The River....Craig Gilbert on Three Men In A Boat

Posted on 30 September 2014

Three Men and a dog, in a boat, on a journey down the Thames. What could possibly go wrong?

Doffing its hat at the 125th anniversary of the publication of Jerome K Jerome’s quintessential British comedy the Original Theatre Company production sails down the river Sherbourne into the Belgrade Theatre to play from 14 – 18 October.

But at more than a hundred years old, why does Director Craig Gilbert think the story has endured?

“Because the humour in it is still really, really funny. Laugh out laugh funny. In Jerome’s work you can see echoes of Monty Python, The Goons and even the Mighty Boosh, so it doesn’t feel in the least bit stale.”

Never out of print since its publication, if you’ve never read the book before then you won’t be surprised to learn that the story revolves around the title characters. Wanting an escape from the pressures of city life J, Harris and George, accompanied by their faithful hound Montmorency, take to the river in order to relax and rejuvenate, but the jaunt quickly descends into chaos.

Originally intended as a guide to boating on the Thames, Jerome’s ripping yarn of youthful friendship and silliness celebrates the very essence of Britishness. But, as Craig points out, the book certainly wasn’t welcomed with open arms by literary critics of the day.

“It was considered vulgar when it was first published,” he laughs. “But nevertheless it was still hugely popular and they couldn’t print copies fast enough.”
Was the task of adapting such a well-loved book for the stage a daunting one?

“It was a treat really. All I had to do was find a way to make the original work into something that was theatrically viable. It was great fun to solve the problems,” grins Craig.

For instance? “Well, the river and the journey are created by things you would only find in a pub.”

Ah, so that’s where the working pub comes in. “Yes, and it has functional pumps that we put to great comedic use. Alas we don’t force flagons of ale on the audience!”

Explaining that the original text is steeped in mischief, Craig wanted to reflect that naughtiness in his adaptation.

“I borrowed idioms of later comedians and included some modern references that also resonate with Jerome’s time. As for music, I thought it would be great to celebrate the art form of Jerome’s time; the sort of thing he himself would have seen, so we have music hall singing, too.”

It all sounds charmingly bonkers – especially when you learn that Craig has managed to give the likes of Laurel and Hardy a look in, too.

“I really enjoy the silent comedians like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers so when I was writing I tried to pay a reasonably hefty homage to them,” he laughs.

Equally chuffed with his cast as he is the venues the play is visiting, Craig is delighted that Three Men in a Boat will be coming to Coventry

“It’s wonderful to take work into places I admire; places like the Belgrade where great work continues to takes place.”

So, back to that recipe for the perfect family night out. What is Craig’s vital ingredient?

Without pause he answers: “Laughter. If you think about all the relationships that matter to you they are all based on shared laughter. If my eyes meet your eyes over laughter then that’s a special thing. If you can do that with an entire audience then that’s a great thing.”

Preparing to take his leave he stops; thoughtful for a moment.

“I think comedy is the greatest human achievement. Much better than the pyramids!”

You can hear more from Craig in our latest video interview filmed during the show’s visit to Malvern earlier this month.

Three Men In A Boat docks in Coventry from Tues 11 – Sat 14 October. Tickets are available now via Box Office on 024 7655 3055 or online where tickets are cheaper.