Rough Crossing Review | The Lowry | Manchester
Tom Stoppard’s high seas adventure combines the colourful comedy and witty writings of the Academy and Tony Award-winning writer. Inspired by the Hungarian author Ferenc Molnar’s work, The Play’s the Thing (1926), Rough Crossing splashes about with absurdist comedy, musical musings and a whirlwind romance to bring some stylish and light-hearted antics to the Lowry stage.
We follow longtime collaborators, Turai (John Partridge) and Gal (Matthew Cottle) as they attempt to finish writing their latest play while travelling on board a luxury transatlantic liner heading to New York. Along with their composer Adam (Rob Ostlere) and the play’s stars, an enraptured love triangle threatens to unravel the production before a script has even been completed. Stoppard crafts a straightforward story which relies on misunderstandings, mistrust and improbable circumstances to drive this language-rich plot. When composer Adam overhears his Eastern European fiancé and English actor Ivor declare their lust for each other, it is left to the playwrights to rework the scripts ending to convince Adam that their conversation was a part of their rehearsal.
No real danger wades in these waters and with the stakes of the passengers so low the witty language in between begins to slow the pace of the show, extending the audience's journey until we reach its expected conclusion. While the story is told with passion by the energetic cast, the conservatively crafted narrative spends the first act setting up punch lines that are too old-fashioned and repetitive to pack a real punch. Scenes do feel refreshed by Dvornicher character (Charlie Stemp) whose charming performance eases drawn-out scenes.
Director Rachel Kavanaugh pairs the vintage comedy stylings with a glamourous set. With the story based around the 1930s RMS Queen Elizabeth, Kavanaugh showcases elaborate costumes, art deco design and beautiful silver-plated set pieces that keep the interior of the ship bright and lustrous. It’s clever slotting of stage doors and slick design is one of the highlights of the production as the cookie cutter comedy uses a heavy-handed blend of excessive overacting and nonsensical scenarios to keep the plot afloat. As the play-within-a-play moves along with demanded absurdity, including music with lyrics written by Stoppard, the excessive for excessive sake story begins to wear thin.
While the show hardly conquers new ground, the laughably easygoing production plays out an inconsequential, throw away comedy for anyone looking for a laugh that centres around a love of language.