REVIEW: Rough Crossing at Cambridge Arts Theatre - needs to be a lot smoother to be any fun

Rough Crossing is at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picture: PAMELA RAITH

Rough Crossing is at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picture: PAMELA RAITH - Credit: Archant

Rough Crossing, now showing at Cambridge Arts Theatre, was written in 1984. Sadly, this play set at sea is rather washed out.

In 1997, Sir Tom Stoppard was the first playwright to be knighted for his services to the arts since Terence Rattigan. Some of his work is ingenius but this is not his best work - or the best version of it.

Rough Crossing, now showing at Cambridge Arts Theatre, was written in 1984. From this production, if it was good then. Its stale now. It’s set on a ship and watching this flat production feels like you have got on a slow boat to China.

It’s so hackneyed that I wondered whether it was a deliberate send up of tired old theatre. It reminded me of Ernie Wise’s The Play What I Wrote - except those were crisp and short, always had actors with presence and you needed the comic timing of Morecambe and Wise to get away with it.

This plot of a play within a play has the two playwrights and their cast on a luxury liner. Before they set sail, the leading lady is overheard by her current fiance whispering sweet nothings to an old flame.

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The fiance - the play’s composer - is devastated and so is she when she realises. To save everyone’s feelings and his play, one of the playwrights writes down the overheard fond exchange and presents it as the new ending to his play - to convince the fiance that it was all just a rehearsal.

Meanwhile, the only person on board who seems to have a grasp of drama’s complex plot is the waiter.

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There is a running joke that one of the authors from the beginning of the play to it’s closing moments keeps ordering a cognac from this waiter which someone else drinks every time, he has to order another. Sorry but I found that as funny as a dripping tap.

The songs were written by Andre Previn. They are pleasant but not remarkable.

The producion is good to look at, Colin Richmond’s set of an ocean liner is delightful and there are a couple of good lines. When actress Natasha, played by Issy Van Randwyck, is told she is playing a young woman of 29, she says: “Who’s lighting me - the police?”

And when they think the ship is sinking, playwright Gal, played in a nice understated performance by Matthew Cottle, comes back in wearing a lifebelt saying: “The women and children give no way on this vessel.”

But overall the play needs the characters to be much stronger to be any fun.

Rough Crossing is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 13.

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