Three Men in a Boat
A Comedy of Errors (with Music)
by Blake Heathcote
This lively comedy for the stage has been adapted from Jerome K. Jerome’s classic 1889 novel of the same name. It’s the original ‘Road Trip’ and ‘Buddy Comedy.’
These are no prim and proper gents: these are three young males out looking to blow off steam, drink a bit too much, and hopefully meet more than a few girls. And in 1889, there was no better place to do that than sailing up the Thames in your very own boat, with nothing but the call of the wild as your guide. At least that was their plan. And nothing went according to plan.
Blake Heathcote’s stage adaptation is a comedic delight, laugh out loud funny and wonderfully theatrical. It premiered in Canada in 1989 and was subsequently given an enthusiastically received production directed by Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round in North Yorkshire, UK.
Published in November 2015 for the first time, Heathcote’s adaptation offers something quite a bit different from more typical 'light' fare. As Time Out observed about Three Men in a Boat, “Tired of everything meaning something? Just want to have fun?” This might be just the tonic you have been looking for!
Three Men in a Boat is a robust theatrical comedy, not a well-mannered period piece. In its day, the original novel was the original ‘road trip’ and ‘buddy comedy,’ and was slammed by critics for what they saw as a celebration of Low Life – which didn’t stop it from from being an instant success and selling hundreds of thousands of copies in England alone, and over a million in the United States.
These are three young men on holiday. They are middle-class clerks who live in a very proper Victorian world, but while on holiday do what they can to try to break free of the constraints of their working worlds. That sense of repressed enthusiasm and energy is key to the performances, and is what keeps the play bristling with life. Imagine a young John Cleese as the character Harris, and you begin to get a sense of the spirit of the script's intentions.
Actors & Casting
The play is written for five actors: four men, and one woman.
The actors playing the three men perform only their parts throughout, with one exception:
The actor playing “Jerome” reads a few lines as Jerome’s dog, Montmorency. Montmorency is never seen (apart from a few lines read by the actor playing Jerome). The actors should react to Montmorency as though he was very much there with them throughout. It’s especially important for Jerome to establish and remind us of the presence of Montmorency throughout.
The ‘swing’ actors, Woman and Man, each play multiple roles.
Sets & Lighting
The script’s scene divisions are typically used to show short passages of time. The play is intended to move very swiftly and with a very light touch. This is dependent on agile direction and production design, which will allow the scenes to flow fluidly from one to the next using a minimum of scenery. There is a great deal of the energy and spark of the ‘Music Hall’ in the play: take this as a cue and run with it!
With minimal scenery, lighting will be essential in suggesting different parts of the river, shifting times of day, and most challengingly, the labyrinth of Hampton Court Maze.
Music is used throughout to help establish the mood of the various scenes through underscoring and accompaniment. This has been done using live music (keyboard),
as well as pre-recorded music.