Writer: Tom Stoppard
Director: Rachel Kavanaugh
Reviewer: Steve Turner
Set on a transatlantic liner during the 1930s, Rough Crossing is the story of the attempt by two playwrights to get their new work ready for Broadway. Given that it’s a four-day crossing and they don’t have a satisfactory ending, the beginning still needs knocking into shape and they haven’t got a middle yet, it’s fair to say they are up against it. To complicate things further the two writers and their composer overhear the leading man making amorous overtures to the leading lady, not normally an issue, however leading lady Natasha just happens to be engaged to Adam the composer, who has developed a curious speech impediment. One might think that all of these elements brought together on the same stage should present themselves as a farce, or possibly a screwball comedy, unfortunately, they just seem to muddy the waters.
There is, of course, some sharp dialogue, dripping with witticisms and theatrical jokes, as one would expect from a Tom Stoppard work. All of this is delivered with panache by a very willing and able cast including John Partridge as Turai, the self-confident writer, Issy Van Randwyck as the vivacious Natasha and Simon Dutton as her one-time beau Ivor, still yet to accept that his time with her is over.
The main issue here is that whilst all the elements of farce are present and correct, the writing is more suited to a less frantic delivery as some of the humour gets lost amongst the action, and the comedy itself is a bit light whereas it needs to be a bit less subtle to succeed. The cast acquits themselves well, with Charlie Stemp shining, making the most of a rather crudely drawn Dvornichek; his obvious talent seems a little underused here sadly. It is, however, hard to warm to any of the characters, or indeed be too interested as to how the story will unfold, owing to the somewhat confusing collision of styles. The fact that it just about holds together as a work owes much to the direction of Rachel Kavanaugh who injects some urgency to avoid things getting stuck in the doldrums.
Performed on an excellent art deco style set designed by Colin Richmond carefully echoing the style of the period, the performers wring the best out of the work but ultimately the production does not live up to the sum of its parts. That said parts of tonight’s audience certainly enjoyed the performance, appreciating the running gags and the light-hearted feel, even if the play within a play structure seemed to unnecessarily complicate things.
All told a valiant attempt to breathe life into a work; but a somewhat hollow experience perhaps explaining why it is so infrequently revived.
Runs until 16 March 2019 then on tour | Image: Pamela Raith