Review: Three Men in a Boat at The Nuffield Theatre (30/09/14)


1.5 stars

It isn’t essential that all theatre has some sort of purpose, but if that purpose is purely to entertain, it is essential that it does just that. The Original Theatre Company’s dull and unimaginative production of Craig Gilbert’s Three Men in a Boat, however, did not abide by these basic guidelines.

Three Men in a Boat is based on an autobiographical book of the same name, and tells the story of three men taking a sailing trip on the Thames in 1889. Nothing of any consequence whatsoever happens to them, and this is the central fault of the play – it is a story that has no need to be told, and so holds no interest for the audience. The only major event is the seemingly random appearance of a dead body floating in the water – to which the three men respond with a seemingly random sad song, and then continue on with their jollities as if it hadn’t happened. The gaps in the plot (or, lack of plot entirely) are filled with desperate, cheap gags – alternating between basic toilet humour or unoriginal, predictable puns – or bizarre musical interludes.

None of this is to say that the performances were weak – the small cast gave faultless performances, showcasing many talents as well as acting. The vocal performances given by Anna Westlake (as sidelined character Nelly) and Paul Westwood (as George) were particularly impressive, and the overall performance given by Tom Hackney (as Harris), displaying in incredible aptitude for physical comedy, held the show together. The design of the set, too, was just as professional as one would expect from a touring company – so the question that remains is why are a company with such obvious talent wasting time on such a meaningless play?

Three Men in a Boat is at best, dull and unoriginal and at worst, offensive and outdated. There is still room for well-directed, well-written farce in theatre – clearly, as the seats in the Nuffield were still filled by the older generation that one might expect – but, sadly, this production is not it.

Three Men in a Boat will continue touring the UK until November 8th. You can buy tickets and find out more information here.


About Author

What do you do with a BA in English? Well, not a lot, which is why Caitlin also works as Deputy Editor here as well as being Head of Events and Marketing for SUSU Performing Arts, on top of blogging and communications for SUSU. After spending an unhealthy amount of her adolescence on the stage, she's taken to slagging other people off for their efforts. Aspiring theatre critic and all-round sassy queen.


  1. One thing I do like about Caitlin’s reviews is that she’s not afraid to call a show crap. A rare thing for student journalists.

  2. Mildly bemused on

    I went to see this play in Truro and couldn’t disagree more with this ‘review’. It bears no resemblance to the fun and frankly dotty evening I and my fellow audience had. Does Caitlin believe there was no need to tell the story of Jeeves and Wooster in the West End? You simply cannot say a cast is ‘faultless’ and then give a production 1.5 out 5, as you are doing everyone a disservice, including would be audiences/ticket buyers. Could do better Caitlin.

    • Joe Buckingham on

      The cast’s talent was pretty much the only reason it gets those 1.5 stars!

      To get away with putting on a play where the story is as uneventful as ‘Three Men…’ there’s a need to find entertainment elsewhere, i.e. in the telling of the story. Unfortunately there was no effort made to do that here – there was not a single joke in this play that I hadn’t either heard before, or seen coming a mile off. There was absolutely no originality or intelligence in the script whatsoever. The cast did the best they could to salvage something from the wreck of a play, but it would have taken a miracle to win this a score any higher than Caitlin gave it here.

  3. Natalie Fordham on

    Sometimes the acting can be great but if the play is weak then the whole thing falls apart i love that Caitlin wasn’t afraid to share her view

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