Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing is a fizzing, frothy concoction of witty one-liners, complicated fictional plot-lines and gleaming performances. It’s a sort of upper-class, clever comedy, in a beautiful setting and with a self-referential wink that makes the audience feels very much part of the action.
The plot of the actual show is fairly straightforward, in that it concerns the attempts of a playwright, Sandor Turai, to hastily re-write a failing script to help cover up a love affair. Said love affair, between his leading lady Natasha Navratilova and leading man Ivor Fish, will irrevocably affect his composer, Adam Adam, and scupper his planned New York opening. Meantime, his fellow playwright Alex Gal is eating his way through the ship’s supplies and a quirky steward, Dvornichek, is drinking his way through the Cognac reserves.
Based on Ferenc Molnar’s writing ‘The Play’s the Thing’, Stoppard’s script knowingly points the finger at playwrights themselves, overcomplicating storylines and inventing ridiculous connections that would never happen. The characters themselves have little of our sympathy, all seemingly quite detached from reality, but the smoothness by which this tricky, wordy script is delivered, is all in the expertise of the actors delivering it.
John Partridge is Turai and brings a wonderful self-absorption to the role. He has great presence, and his energy and physicality bring to life an otherwise fairly static scene. The focus is there 100% of the time. We particularly enjoyed his murmuring the words of his own play to himself with a smug smile, whilst his actors performed them, a subtle but clever touch.
Turai’s shield of self confidence is shattered only by the eccentric steward Dvornichek – or Murphy as he is christened – played by a super-slick Charlie Stemp. Whilst it is some way from the West End and the musicals where Stemp has made a name for himself, he shows a wealth of talent in this role. There is physical comedy: constantly staggering about finding his sea-legs as if at sea, whilst actually in port. There is great comedy timing: the never ending replenishment and disappearance of many glasses of cognac through a hundred different methods. And the delivery of a lengthy and ebullient description of the convoluted plot on frequent occasions, with perfect diction and great cheer.
The remaining cast of Issy Van Randwyck, Matthew Cottle, Simon Dutton and Rob Ostlere also features many recognisable faces, and they too provide very accomplished performances of characters who are, inevitably, a little two dimensional, this being a farce. There is much fun and frivolity, with the delivery of a lumpy ‘fictional’ script by Van Randwyck and Dutton being one of the comic highlights.
One thing that is beautifully three dimensional is the set, designed by Colin Richmond. A luxury cruise ship from the 1930s, it speaks of glamour and style, and every detail has been thought through to ensure historical accuracy. In the first act, an intimate cabin interior and second floor balcony, in the second act, a piano lounge with sophisticated Mackintosh style glass doors. Likewise, Richmond has designed the costumes and clearly had a wonderful time getting the right checks and stripes and colour palette sorted, they really lift the show. One wants to slip into a silk evening dress, grab a martini and take a walk on the poop deck.
Rough Crossing is a light and bubbly cocktail of a play, to be drunk down in a refreshing gulp and not lingered over, but delivered on a silver platter of polished performances.
Rough Crossing runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Sat 20 April
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