Rough Crossing turned out to be a rough crossing for me, though this was more down to my personal circumstances than faults in the production. Having made the decision to trek down to Chichester Festival Theatre (never an easy decision, what with Southern Railway and South Western Railway being what they are these days), I’d come down with a heavy cold and cough just a couple of days beforehand. But one doesn’t miss the theatre just for the sake of a runny nose and sore throat. The advice is to keep one’s throat’s mucous membranes hydrated so they can heal, so while swallowing is uncomfortable, drinking plenty of fluids is supposed to make a sore throat feel better. So, having drunk gallons of – well, miscellaneous beverages – in a bid to get rid of this blasted illness sooner rather than later, I woke up on Saturday morning. I managed to get up, and thought to myself, “Well, I’m up now. I may as well leave the house.”
I was, of course, drugged up, and while the trains were delayed (yet again), what really didn’t help was the lack of available hackney carriages at Chichester Station. First world problem, naturally, but I wasn’t thinking that when I wheezed and huffed and puffed my way through the city centre. It’s true what they say, though, about the only city in West Sussex: the local population is considerably older than it is in the capital, reflected in the patronage of the theatre, and even this unwell, short, fat bloke (me) was shuffling past quite a few people to get to where I was going.
Rightly or wrongly I agreed to ‘same again’ at the interval (a large glass of chardonnay). As I’d expended more energy than I had expected trekking across central Chichester (on reflection I was more unwell than I had realised) and rather enjoyed my wine, it was very difficult to resist entering the Land of Nod, not helped by the play being quite subtle. At the interval, people were complaining about not being able to hear the cast properly (they were unamplified) which probably is more to do with the configuration of the Festival Theatre stage (Elizabethan thrust rather than proscenium arch), which makes it quite possible for an actor to be facing away from one section of the audience or another at any given point.
There were some musical numbers in the show, though it is very much a play and not a musical. Adam (Rob Ostlere) has some sort of nervous disposition which means he ends up answering the previous question, very much in the style of the 1980 Two Ronnies ‘Mastermind’ sketch. The whole thing goes at quite a pace, sending the Festival Theatre audience back out into the fairly chilly Chichester air barely two hours after it had started, and there were moments when not enough opportunity was given for the audience to appreciate a punchline through laughter and/or applause.
What transpires, as far as I could deduce, is that there is a playwriting partnership between Sandor Turai (John Partridge) and Alex Gal (Matthew Bottle). Adam is their composer, and the trio are still working on their latest musical, called ‘The Cruise of the Dodo’. They and their actors are on board a ship called the SS Italian Castle, bound for New York. The actors are Natasha Navratilova (Issy van Randwyck) and Ivor Fish (Simon Dutton). All are served by a new employee of the ship, Dvornichek (Charlie Stemp, who perhaps unsurprisingly gets a chance to demonstrate his considerable dancing skills). Ivor and Natasha, already being in a professional relationship, develop a personal one, much to the chagrin of Adam, Natasha’s significant other. From this arises some entertaining but absurdist proceedings, which eventually lead to a happy ending of sorts.
Goodness me, it’s dull and dated. It’s a good cast, for sure, but a joke about a speech impediment in this day and age is not really much of a joke at all – for me, it was merely unfunny rather than offensive, and a gag in which Dvornichek repeatedly fails to get a drink to its intended recipient is overdone to the point of flogging a proverbial dead horse. It wasn’t even ‘Springtime for Hitler’ funny (that is, so bad it ironically has comedy value). It was just bland with a capital B. Good set (Colin Richmond) though.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith