Paul Burbridge's stage adaptation of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men In A Boat has ended up travelling further than the three young fogeys on their trip up the Thames in 1889.

"The original commission was with the Northcote Theatre in Exeter to adapt the book for the play's first run in Exeter. From there it then toured to other major theatres around Britain, including York Theatre Royal in a very hot week, as I remember it, in late July, early August in 1991, " says Paul, artistic director of York theatre company Riding Lights, whose new co-production with the Theatre Royal takes to the water tonight in York.

Paul had approached the Northcote to present Jerome's tale in a co-production. "I'd had the chance the previous year to take some time off, and I thought I'd do something useful - I'll adapt a book, " he says.

He chose Three Men In A Boat.

"I first encountered the book as a child; I say a child, but more probably I was a teenager, when you're less critical of its literary merit but its humour, warmth and slapstick get to you, " Paul says.

"But as a piece to present on stage, there were the problems of the river, the boat and the instant changes of scene with all Jerome's glorious digressions. It's the instant transformations that you begin to think about and it was only when I got together with designer Sean Cavanagh to go for a stroll by a stretch of the Thames that I got a feel for the river."

Paul remembers how important that walk was in shaping his production of Three Men In A Boat.

"We walked down the riverside from Oxford to get a feel of the space and the pace of the river.

You see the trees and the foliage and it's all moving and changing all the time and the landscape moves with you, " he says. "So we ended up with a very fluid design that was able to respond to the story in an instant."

Eighteen years later, Cavanagh's original, agile design still fits the bill for Burbridge's new revival, and the writer-director has not felt the need to make major alterations to his dialogue, "beyond wanting to satisfy the need to deliver things more snappily and with more punch for today's tastes".

"I started this time by re-reading the book, and going back to it, what I felt was that it was still very funny, it still made us laugh about real life, the minor disasters and the cussedness, and with Jerome's style of writing, there is literally a joke on every page, as you'd expect in a good book.

"Rather than having three men mucking about on a river, these days the equivalent would be Men Behaving Badly, but there's a very different pace and tone to Jerome's writing, so maybe we now need to push some of the images, some of the jokes, so that they come out in greater relief.

"Maybe they have to be more quickfire too, as Victorian times are that little bit further away, so we have to work harder to pull the comedy into the foreground to enjoy it fully."

  • Three Men In A Boat, York Theatre Royal, tonight until April 26. Box office: 01904 623568.