Rough Crossing proves awfully flat in Chichester

Rough Crossing
Rough Crossing

REVIEW: Rough Crossing, Chichester Festival Theatre, until February 16

Sometimes posterity lets a gem slip through the net. Sometimes it lets a stone sink without trace.

No need to wonder why Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing doesn’t get performed more often.

Its revival here is a salvage operation which should never have been attempted.

Not even the combined talents of John Partridge, Charlie Stemp and Issy van Randwyck are enough to steer this ship into port. After a reasonably bright first half, the play shows exactly why it has disappeared into near total obscurity.

The premise is interesting enough. Two famous but desperate playwrights are stuck on an ocean liner headed for New York, feverishly trying to rehearse their latest show before reaching land, and opening night. In the background there’s a slapstick waiter with ideas above his station – and all sorts of love-triangle shenanigans.

But far from being rough, the crossing is decidedly flat.

Partridge is excellent. He gives it his all, expressive and charismatic, but you know you need lifejackets when not even Partridge can rescue the vessel.

As for Stemp, on his return to Chichester after the triumph of Half A Sixpence three years ago, he certainly has his moments, but the running gag about never quite managing to give one of the playwrights his cognac wears painfully thin – especially in a second half devoted to a rehearsal of the play in which the plot is tediously hammered out.

Too often in Stoppard, you sense that the real subject of his theatre is Tom Stoppard’s own cleverness; it’s certainly counter-productive here in a second half which feels increasingly leaden.

Such a shame that the winter season should end so lamely. But maybe it’s a ruse to make us long for the summer shows which will be announced on February 14.

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