Tom Stoppard is one of those writers who have a huge following. He has written some really fine plays, including The Real Thing, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead.
So hopes are high for Rough Crossing with musical theatre star and local Celebrity MasterChef winner John Partridge on board alongside West End and Broadway actor Charlie Stemp.
The first thing that strikes you about this production is Colin Richmond’s striking set – a cruise liner reminiscent of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. And that is quite apt as this absurd play is a strange hybrid between Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and an old school musical.
The plot revolves around a musical writing duo on board a cruise liner who find themselves getting a show ready to roll. Choppy waters lie ahead with slapstick comedy, songs, and confusion.
John Partridge leads the cast and is way too good for this laboured material. He is clearly longing to sing and dance and gets the chance to do so at the end. But the set is not really designed for it. He would have been better served if he could have danced across the front of the stage.
Charlie Stemp, another brilliant actor, recently starred alongside Bette Midler on Broadway in Hello, Dolly! and is about to sweep chimneys in the stage version of Mary Poppins.
Meanwhile, he is stuck on this boat, going nowhere fast. He plays Dvornichek, a character who keeps getting drunk whilst serving passengers. Cue him flailing around like a cross between Lee Evans and Norman Wisdom. Whilst he is very good, his lines are groanworthy. Again, you long for him to dance and sing and do his thing.
The problem with this piece is the script. There is no point to anything taking place but it is not clever enough to leave you pondering that this is the point. Instead, you watch in awe as top quality actors attempt to breathe life into a play which hits an iceberg within the first five minutes.
There are some unintentionally funny lines about the show within the show closing early. But sadly these gags could also apply to the play audience members have paid good money to see.
The humour is odd. We hear gags at the expense of a character with a speech impediment and an awful gag about rape. But what you are left with is a smug play about unlikeable self-satisfied posh characters who are worried that their cruise liner is going to sink.
Characters keep threatening to jump overboard. By the time the interval arrived, I was tempted to shout “Shark!”
Tom Stoppard has written some really fine plays. This damp squib is not one of them.
Rough Crossing is at The Lowry until 23rd February.