In the first few minutes of Three Men in a Boat, three upper-class twits make a promise: the show we’re about to see is utterly devoid of merit or intellectual sustenance, and exists strictly and exclusively to entertain.
And as they venture up the Thames, they do just that, filling the hour with clockwork-choreography movement, tightly-written scenes, lovely teamwork, and recurring musical elements. Three Men (based on a real period travelogue) is an hour-deep pocket full of Wildean humour, and will tickle you in places you didn’t know you had funny bones.
The single most outstanding thing about this production is how well the actors play together. Each of them are strong on points alone: Victor Pokinko is equal parts Oscar Wilde and drunk Katherine Hepburn; Scott Garland has total mastery over his stage presence, big as a wall one moment and then disappearing completely the next; and Matt Pilipiak, our eager narrator, spends the whole evening like a firecracker waiting to go off, putting off energy and making the air crackle around him.
But as a team, especially in moments in which the movement has been carefully choreographed by director Sue Miner, they really lift the roof off the place, much greater as a unit than they are as a sum of parts. An experiment for the reader: wait for one of the occasional moments when there’s only one actor on stage, and I guarantee you’ll still feel the presence of the other two. Man, what a group.
Mark Brownell’s adaptation provides a considerable lift as well, carving a novel down to a dozen or so well-chosen scenes, all the perfect length: just long enough to pay off, but not so long as to drag, with plenty of variety and traffic in between. And musical director Rigzin Tute has them singing and playing surprisingly often and surprisingly well, stitching the business together with well-placed schoolboy affirmations.
Do not, however, come to see this show expecting to see good parts: come expecting to see an outstanding whole. Every part of this one works together so well — everything feeding into everything else — that tearing it into components almost feels wrong. Seamless, clever and very, very funny.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage and Studio shows are $15 and Ante-chamber performances are $10
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
- Do be aware that this production plays in the Factory Studio. Accessing the Studio through the normal route involves climbing a one-storey staircase, with railings. A barrier-free route may be available at certain performances if advance notice is given: we recommend discussing this with the festival before purchasing your tickets.
- Three Men in a Boat is suitable for all ages, but the subject matter may not be of interest to young children. Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Photograph of Victor Pokinko, Matt Pilipiak and Scott Garland provided by the company.