Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, dramatized by Chris Harrald

Contact Us

Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 15-22 September 2013
Much of the comedy of this adaptation was provided through J's (Julian Rhind-Tutt's) narration.  At the outset he promised faithfully that what we would hear would be a faithful account of events that actually happened; at the end, he reiterated the point, even though emphasizing that certain points might have been changed in the interests of dramatic licence.  That last point was an understatement; what emerged throughout Melanie Harris' production was that J had a distressing tendency to digress into romantic fantasy.  Sometimes his flights of fancy were abruptly curtailed by George's (Steve Punt) or Harris' (Hugh Dennis) interventions; on other occasions his imagination ran riot.  As a narrator he was highly entertaining but far from reliable.
The musical score - excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, interspersed with a score by Gary Yershon and accordion interludes by Eddie Hession - set the story in its historical period.  The late Victorian/ Edwardian era seemed like a world upon which the sun would never set, providing the perfect backdrop for three agreeable if somewhat feckless young men to make their trip.  Sometimes they were involved in sing-alongs at local hostelries; with the help of students from Rose Bruford College, director Harris turned these sequences into a celebration of community and good fellowship.  While misfortunes plagues the three men on their trip, they would come to any real harm in this kind of society.
The production was extremely funny, not least for the way in which the characters' misfortunes - being unable to open a tin of pineapple, trying to wash their clothes but finding them dirtier than before - were narrated in a deliberately understated way.  Jerome K. Jerome's text offers actors plenty of opportunity for this type of approach; but Rhind-Tutt's narration was masterly.  Nothing seemed to go very wrong - even though in truth things did happen.
Punt and Dennis were equally memorable as George and Harris; while remaining firm friends with J., they tried their best to shut him up, while pursuing their own interests instead.  Harris' production gave them full opportunity to provide comic effects through nonverbal as well as verbal communication; the moment where George tried to make a plate of scrambled eggs was particularly memorable.
Add to the mix a clever use of animal sounds as part of the sound-design )(by Eloise Whitmore) - notably for Montmorency the dog - and you have the recipe for a highly enjoyable piece.