Review; SINK OR SWIM Spike Theatre.
IN JEROME K Jerome's novel, his three eponymous men in a boat only had to contend with the gentle waters of the Thames.
Spike Theatre meanwhile has taken its previous characters to Himalayan peaks (Top of The World) and Olympic heights (in The Games) and so was never going to settle for a simple riverbank when it could pitch its protagonists into a stormy sea.
Up the proverbial creek without a paddle - well, actually they do have one which they fail to use - after the Frenchies unfairly sink their ship in an opening silhouette salvo, petulant toff officer Gideon Oliver (Shaun Mason), sweet-natured conscript Swab Hand Bottle (Graham Geoffrey Hicks) and psychotic serial shipwreck survivor Able Seaman Jim Black (Paul Duckworth) are thrown together in a fight for survival in a tiny boat.
The question that unfolds over the course of Sink or Swim's 75 minute running time is just that. In trying circumstances, do you sink or swim, and what are you prepared to do to stay alive? The action is preceded with a bastardised version of the Shipping Forecast which is, in its own words, "variable" and with "flashes of silliness".
It's followed by a rather scrappy start to the main action with the trio, who also devised the script under the eye of writer Robert Farquhar and director Mark Smith, as frenetic as three small boys hopped up on e-numbers and having a silly fit.
But slowly and surely the scrappiness turns into something rather lovely, eventually arriving at an elegiac conclusion.
In between the two there are arguments and tantrums, stoicism and cynicism, selflessness and selfishness, arguments over the pronunciation of weevil (reminding of the wincing weevil gag in Master and Commander) and the arrival of a giant squid to a thumping hard rock soundtrack.
Mason essays both naive optimism and inbred stupidity as the junior officer hopelessly out of his depth, while Hicks' gives us the open, sunny expression of his simple, gentle giant press-ganged into a situation far beyond his comprehension.
Duckworth meanwhile chews the scenery (literally at one point) as the wily old seadog with a manic glint in his eye and a knife in his sock who may just be the biggest Jonah of them all.
Sink or Swim is also touring to Ormskirk, St Helens, and Liverpool's Valley Theatre.
7.5/10 makes a splash