Tag Archives: Clive Francis

THREE MEN IN A BOAT

★★★

The Mill at Sonning

THREE MEN IN A BOAT at The Mill at Sonning

★★★

“It won’t rock the boat too much as it drifts along on its stream of witty dialogue pleasantly enough”

Published in 1889, Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” was initially intended to be a serious travel guide, with snippets of local history thrown in. But unwittingly, the author’s natural flair for comedy took over the narrative and Jerome found himself with an instant best seller on his hands. Since then, it has never been out of print and, even if not everybody has read it, most people are familiar with its title. It is simultaneously dated yet, quite rightly, resists being placed in a contemporary context. Instead, his style and influence can be seen in modern-day equivalents such as Bill Bryson, or more specifically Pete McCarthy. And even Tim Dowling owes his self-deprecating gift for focusing on the commonplace in part to Jerome.

Nothing much happens at all in “Three Men in a Boat”. That is much of its beauty, so to translate that onto the stage is going to be a tall order. Clive Francis’ adaptation moves it forward in time to the eve of World War I, although we only get a glimpse of this representation – albeit a powerful one – towards the end. The preceding couple of hours is a faithful reproduction of the book which doesn’t always translate into a particularly interesting piece of theatre.

 

 

We meet the characters: Jerome (George Watkins), his banker chum George (James Bradshaw) and the eccentric Harris (Sean Rigby) discussing their various, real and imagined ailments; the three actors quickly and neatly establishing the personalities of the odd trio. While none of them can decide quite what they are suffering from, they all agree that it has been brought on by overwork. A change of scene is what is needed. Sean Cavanagh’s authentically detailed set provides this by cleverly opening up from its Edwardian Kensington apartment into a nostalgic backdrop of the Thames riverbank. The three friends then cram themselves into a boat that is far too small for comfort (especially for the week-long cruise they are embarking on). It’s a good job their canine companion is imagined – its presence represented by sound alone.

We also meet some interesting and colourful characters along the way (lockkeepers, country-bumpkins, pub-locals, boastful fishermen), all played in turn by the three men in the boat. The technique allows for touches of farcical humour, and thanks to the performers’ versatility and swift shapeshifting, we are never confused. Director Joe Harmston relies on the device too much, however, diluting the dramatic impact. The narrative works best when the three men are just being themselves, and we are afforded personal access to their close-knit camaraderie. Yes, tempers occasionally fray but Watkins, Bradshaw and Rigby never let us forget the deep-rooted sense of loyalty and companionship that true friendship offers. The second act strongly reinforces that underlying message.

“To friendship and loyalty” they toast in the final moments. The tone shifts into a minor key as the hum of warplanes drifts from the horizon. It is a fleeting and poignant footnote. But overall, “Three Men in a Boat” is as comforting as a gently meandering tributary. It won’t rock the boat too much as it drifts along on its stream of witty dialogue pleasantly enough. Some of us might need something more challenging, but we all need every now and then the refreshing and easy-going escapism that this show has to offer. And the Mill at Sonning is the perfect setting for it. As Jerome K. Jerome writes in the book; ‘… it is the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river… more like a stage village’. You won’t be swept away, but it’s definitely worth getting on board.

 


THREE MEN IN A BOAT at The Mill at Sonning

Reviewed on 15th June 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Andreas Lambis

 

 


 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

CALENDAR GIRLS | ★★★★ | April 2024
HIGH SOCIETY | ★★★★ | December 2023
IT’S HER TURN NOW | ★★★ | October 2023
GYPSY | ★★★★★ | June 2023
TOP HAT | ★★★★ | November 2022
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK | ★★★★ | July 2022

THREE MEN IN A BOAT

THREE MEN IN A BOAT

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A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
★★★★

Print Room at the Coronet

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

Print Room at the Coronet

Reviewed – 12th December 2018

★★★★

“Francis’ conviction sees many of us craning to check that there isn’t a haunting figure lurking stage left”

 

‘Bah! Humbug!’ So one might say of A Christmas Carol, a story so well-known as to risk being hackneyed (indeed, this is one of several London Christmas Carols running in 2018). Despite this being a tale many audience members must know well, this one-man performance by Clive Francis still manages to surprise and move.

An extremely pacey seventy minute rendition sees us rattle through a merry cast of characters, with Francis seeming to transform before our eyes. So speedy is the delivery that an actor with less-than-perfect diction would risk losing the audience amidst the occasional density of the Dickensian language. No such danger with Francis, whose lengthy West End credits are testament: we are in safe hands. That said, we do occasionally lose the odd phrase to the relentless pace – a compromise worth making for a performance that’s brisk enough to never see us bored.

The range of characters unfolding before us doesn’t allow for a moment of inertia. One moment we shudder at the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, pinched and acerbic; the next, with chameleonic dexterity, the figure transforms to an affable and particularly well-realised Bob Cratchit. Perfectly devised and executed lighting design (Alex Ramsden) and music and sound (Phillip Sheppard) further bring the story to life. We can readily believe that we’re shifting seamlessly from the rosy interior of a warm family celebration, echoing with laughter, to the chilly presence of unwelcome spirits. The ghostly visitors are cleverly represented by shafts of white light, and Francis’ conviction sees many of us craning to check that there isn’t a haunting figure lurking stage left.

Light and sound also contribute to the performance variously being genuinely creepy, as when Scrooge stands in horror at his own deathbed, and truly affecting. That the production remarkably manages to avoid mawkishness, even around the (let’s face it, frankly treacly) Tiny Tim character and narrative, is credit to the utter class of the staging and actor.

As a seasonal night out, this can’t be beat. What could be more festive than a viewing of the archetypal Christmas tale replete with snowy trees, flickering candles and the scent of mulled wine? The Coronet makes for the perfect setting, with its air of faded grandeur and peeling paint only adding to the ambiance. Oh – and, as the star at the top of the tree, look out for a truly magical surprise as the performance draws to a close. Dickens would approve.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

 


A Christmas Carol

Print Room at the Coronet until 14th December

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Open House | ★★★★ | January 2018
The Comet | ★★★★ | March 2018
How It Is (Part One) | ★★½ | May 2018
Act & Terminal 3 | ★★★★ | June 2018
The Outsider | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Love Lies Bleeding | ★★★★ | November 2018

 

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