29 January 2019 (released)
31 January 2019
The elegant setting of a 1930s luxury passenger liner provides a stunning backdrop for this comedy. Two frustrated playwrights are struggling to finish their new musical with just days to go before it opens in New York. They are in turns thwarted and inspired by their fellow passengers: a lovelorn young musical composer, the male and female leads for their play, and an inebriated steward.
Though not one of Oscar winning Tom Stoppard's most thought-provoking plays, Rough Crossing is lightly entertaining. His witty word smithery is well delivered by this talented group of actors. Stoppard has a keen ear for the idiosyncrasies of the English language and his comedy is awash with verbal acrobatics. One of the best lines brings to mind Oscar Wilde:
“Never surprise a woman, they love surprises so long as they have been warned.”
The play’s humour draws from a range of techniques including punning misunderstandings, comic timing with characters holding multiple conversations simultaneously and good old-fashioned physical slapstick. In fact, the increasingly drunk waiter, Dvornichek, staggering across the decks with trays of drinks draws the most laughs. Charlie Stemp skillfully brings a near clown like edge to this role, balancing his swaying with the drinks tray as the ship rolls across the ocean, with moments of unexpected clarity when his character suddenly moves the plot(s) on via monologues delivered with a staccato that drew spontaneous applause.
Issy Van Randwyck gives us a wonderful range of emotions from her coquettish lover indulging in a final fling with her old flame to a desperate woman forlorn in thinking she's dashed her chances with her new partner. Her beautiful vocals and energetic dancing are the icing on the cake.John Partridge is in turns cool, confident, endearingly camp and maddeningly frustrated as Turai. We're all willing him to succeed as he tries to unravel the problems of his unfinished play, the love lives of his fellow characters and finally get to enjoy his longed for drink.
Stoppard panders to the audience as experienced theatre goers who ‘know’ how a good play should work, and toys with our expectations. This can feel a little too self-congratulatory, even when it’s played for humour. The plot is somewhat slow and takes its time to unfold. We have a hint of the musical element to come when the first act closes with a song “Where do we go from here?”
In the second act, we are tilted into a different mood as the actors give us a hammed up rehearsal of the musical they'll be performing, the ship rocks precariously on the choppy seas throwing the passengers closer together, and the music and dance element of the show are ramped up. The energy increases as the playwrights hurtle across the ocean towards the opening night of their production, and 'our' play also heads towards its denouement.
In summary, the play has some entertaining moments, beautiful scenery and is well performed, but the script really produces too few laughs for this comedy to work as well as we might expect for a writer of Stoppard's calibre.