DramaReviewSouth East

Rough Crossing – Theatre Royal, Norwich

Writer: Tom Stoppard

Director: Rachel Kavanaugh

Reviewer: Lu Greer

Loosely based on Ferenc Molnár’s Play at the Castle, Rough Crossing is set on a transatlantic liner in the 30s and tells the story of two writers trying to finish their new play set to open on Broadway; but with no middle, very little beginning, temperamental actors and bizarre composers the job of writing it becomes somewhat choppy.

As you’d expect from a Stoppard play, there are plenty of witticisms and jokes to be found in the dialogue, all delivered with excellent comedic timing from a very able cast. The issue, though, is that the pacing is just a little off and the lines start to get lost. Where the signature patter of a satire should create a joke piling on joke back and forth, here, the action begins to overshadow some lines, and the subtlety means they’re missed entirely.

Despite the pacing issues, there are performances which shine through on this stage. Matthew Cottle as Gal the level head of the writing duo delivers many of the best gags through a mouthful of his never-ending buffet, while Charlie Stemp shines as Dvornichek as he stumbles around the ship trying to deliver the ever sought after glass of cognac. Indeed, Stemp becomes easily the most memorable aspect of the show, despite his character lacking depth and his ability being rather underused, he acts as the anchor point of the show as he sets the plot to rights throughout. The timing and physical comedy is strong and has many of the classic elements of farce appearing throughout to have the audience giggling in their seats. As the plot progresses, though, it becomes more muddied and seems to lose its course. There are moments of clarity within the production with the musical numbers such as Where Do We Go from Here? pulling together the show and its cast and drawing the audience in.

It is at points such as the musical numbers that the problem with the show seems clear: it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s not just a play, it’s not just a farce, and it never quite makes its way into an operetta. Instead of swaying between the three and offering a whole greater than its parts though, it feels as though it has hedged its bets and never really excelled in any one area.

There is one element of this show, however, which makes it worthy of note and of getting a ticket, which is the sets (Colin Richmond). The curtain opens on to an art deco ocean liner so visually stunning that it garners a round of applause before any actors make it to the stage. The two-story ship dominates the stage, setting the scene both in location and time seamlessly, and gives a sense of period to the show.

While Rough Crossing isn’t the best, it does boast some excellent one-liners and a strong cast who appear to be genuinely having fun during their time on stage. The plot is a little muddled but many of the jokes build well and the sets truly do add something special.

Essentially, this show is a little lost at sea but it does have a life raft.

Running until 30 March 2019 | Image: Pamela Raith

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A little lost at sea

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  1. A truly forgettable piece of theatrical nonsense. The cast seem lost in this production and never really find the anticipated crescendo. The humour is as hard to find as is a good cognac
    the audience should be issued with life jackets as jumping ship seemed the appropriate exit.

  2. We left at the interval as we couldn’t hear and we have seen better school productions, a truly forgettable experience

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