Rough Crossing

Funnier things happen at sea in this frothy and fast comedy from one of our best-regarded living playwrights.

A mid-career Tom Stoppard play it follows the ups and downs of two writers, their composer, and leading couple, as they cruise across the Atlantic to New York for the opening night of their next big show.

The play, though, is in a mess – as are the intertwined love lives of stage darling Natasha (Issy van Randwyck), her fiancé musician Adam (Rob Ostlere) and her old-flame and stage partner Ivor (Simon Dutton).

It’s left to writers Turai (John Partridge) and Gal (Matthew Cottle) to fix the action on and off stage, occasionally helped by ship’s steward Dvornichek (Charlie Stemp).

The script is stamped all over with Stoppard’s trademark wordplay, structural jokes, and physical puns, with the opening scene of deliciously mis-timed responses and misunderstandings setting the tone for the show.

Stemp commands much attention as the amiable crew member, at sea with ship’s practice having faked his CV but more than happy to enjoy a drink or two, but Partridge is the real star. His conniving, charming, and charismatic portrayal of a frustrated playwright hits the mark, and together with Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction he keeps the piece moving at a steady rate of knots.

Cottle is a genial foil to the exploits, with Randwyck, Ostlere and Dutton all turning in solid ensemble performances.

Ben Cracknell’s lighting of Colin Richmond’s compact ship-shape set is subtle and clever, particularly when the vessel hits some choppy waters.

The play’s musical numbers, written with Andre Previn, don’t find themselves in the best berths: the cast’s voices seem a little weak, although Stemp and Partridge partially redeem themselves with an energetic burst of dance towards the end.

This is about the comedy though, and that never falters. Light of foot, quick of mind, and full of laughs, two hours just cruises by. You won’t be needing a life jacket.