Friday 14 February 2020

A Trip to the Theatre – and a New Word

Last night I did something I very rarely do – I went to the theatre (here's what happened last time I tried it). And, for a wonder, I actually enjoyed the show (despite the seats).
It was a one-man adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, performed with gusto by one Giles Shenton, who is the very model of a portly Edwardian gent. He plays 'J' in his middle years, looking back fondly on this riverine escapade of his younger self (with his travelling companions George, Harris and Montmorency the dog). Three Men in a Boat (unlike most late Victorian humorous fiction) is still funny enough to afford good comic entertainment to a modern audience, especially when stripped down to the humorous stuff, with little of nothing of the lyrical and topographical passages that weigh down the book. Shenton gave it his all, the audience laughed and applauded, everyone had a good time, and I think we all (even I) left the theatre in a state of good cheer. 
Talking of good cheer, I should explain my ulterior motive in going to this theatre. It's a little local operation, doubling as an arts centre – and, more to the point, it has a brilliant bar attached, with a welcoming atmosphere, comfortable seating, nice people behind and in front of the bar, and a terrific range of drinks. I will do everything in my power to keep that bar open, even if it means attending the theatre from time to time.

And last night I learnt a word that was new to me. At one point in J's monologue, he refers to a crowd of 'gongoozlers' standing by and watching as the three men in their boat extricate themselves from some watery scrape. The word is, I gather, much used by people who, for reasons best known to themselves, like to spend time on canal boats. Gongoozlers are people who enjoy standing around watching (and no doubt commenting on) activity on the canals. The word could be more widely applied to all forms of idle bystander, but the endless longueurs of canal 'activity' must afford by far the greatest scope for gongoozling.

One more thing: there was another one-man production of Three Men in a Boat that was toured for some years by the late great Rodney Bewes (fondly remembered as Tom Courtenay's pal Arthur in Billy Liar, Bob in The Likely Lads, and Basil Brush's 'Mr Rodney'). Bewes cannily wrote his own adaptation of the book, so that he could pocket the writer's, producer's and performers' slice of the takings. His obituary in The Guardian (he died in 2017) had to be amended when the newspaper learned that his Three Men in a Boat had not, as he'd claimed, won the 'Stella Artois prize' at Edinburgh. 'I make things up all the time,' Bewes confessed in another interview. 'I claim to have won the Stella Artois prize at the Edinburgh fringe, but there's no such thing.' Excellent.


  1. Brian O'Nolan, otherwise Flann O'Brien, apparently managed to get Time magazine to print that he had married the daughter of a Cologne basket-weaver, who had died shortly after the wedding. I don't have ready access to any archive of Time magazines; but if the imaginary wife's name was printed, we should establish a prize in her name for the best literary leg-pull of the year. The "Tekla O'Nolan Prize" has a ring to it, doesn't it?

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    2. Bravo! Librarians really do know everything, don't they?

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks George & Nige for the generous comments. This librarian doesn’t know much, but does have a high tolerance for the boring scut work that’s sometimes required to find information and a magpie mind that’s easily captured by tiny objects.