A late-Victorian week on the Thames isn’t my idea of a good time, but luckily I’ve got Pea Green Theatre Group’s Three Men in a Boat to keep me company, and what a ride it becomes. Easily one of the finest pieces you’ll see in this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, it surprised and delighted its opening-night audience (a sell-out crowd, I might add), blending clever movement, innovative text and language, and a deep knack for physical comedy into one of the best things I’ve seen on stage in a good long while.
The company (Victor Pokinko, Scott Garland and Matt Pilipiak) instantly ingratiate themselves with a sustained burst of energy: the room practically hums from the moment they step on stage. The physicality of this piece is remarkable–I’m surprised director Sue Miner doesn’t credit a choreographer–and clearly demands a lot of these actors. The sweat all over the stage at the end is a testament to how hard they work, but the payoff is tremendous.
Adapter Mark Brownell (working from Jerome K. Jerome’s novel of the same title) hasn’t made life easy for the company, either: his jokes are fantastic, but upper-class twits tend to become exhausting as they linger, and in most shows, having three of them on stage together turns rather annoying rather quickly–but not here. Brownell moves the plot at such a rapid clip (and director Miner is so utterly game to meet this pace) that, while the show may occasionally pass in a blur, this blur is such fun that all sins are forgiven. Several scenes which ought to drag–in particular a bit in a labyrinth–simply don’t. The energy is consistent, and that’s no small task.
Designer Nina Okens also deserves a mention: her shoes alone are a considerable gift to this production, and then there’s the boater hats, the underclothes, the ascots…
But it’s the cast who deserve the most applause–and goodness knows they received it. They’re working damned hard out there, and they’re equal to this piece’s unique challenges. Three distinct characters within the same archetype, no problem. A constant thrum of movement and momentum sustained for an hour, piece of cake. With perfect comic timing and a zest for the silly, I can’t find a single fault with any of them.
This show will sell out. Buy your tickets early. You have been warned. Spectacular.
Three Men in a Boat plays the Annex Theatre (736 Bathurst St.)
July 04 at 01:15 PM
July 06 at 04:00 PM
July 09 at 09:15 PM
July 10 at 11:00 PM
July 12 at 07:30 PM
July 13 at 12:00 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Photograph of the cast provided by the company.