I have always loved the work of Tom Stoppard. The Real Thing (I really should have played Henry!) is one of my favourite plays after all. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a work of genius and who doesn’t like Shakespeare in Love?
So it was with a certain amount of expectant joy that I purchased two tickets to see his play, Rough Crossing, at the Yvonne Arnaud. I admit to knowing nothing about it apart from it was written by Stoppard and had songs in it.
Having sat through it I have to ask why. Why did he write it? It’s actually an adaptation of the 1926 play, The Play’s the Thing by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár. PG Wodehouse thought it was so good that he adapted it for the English speaking audiences of Britain the same year.
That should have been enough. But Tom decided, for whatever reason, to get Andre Previn to pen a few songs (which were most enjoyable) for his 1984 version. I reckon he could have done something a little more imaginative.
I think the main problem with Rough Crossing is the fact that it isn’t very clever. Don’t get me wrong, it has quite a few laughs in it and the unexpected is not always that far away which is very Stoppard but, overall, it was quite mediocre.
And that doesn’t allow for the cast who were also a bit sub-standard. In particular the ridiculously cartoon character camp Turai played by John Partridge. Within the context of the play, Turai could be very masterful, almost a typical Noel Coward kind of writer/director type but Mr Partridge decided it needed to be Mr Humphries. I guess he figured it was the best way to get cheap laughs. Though, in saying that, I rather enjoyed his seemingly impromptu tap dance.
On the other side of the scale was the superb Charlie Stemp playing the steward, Dvornichek. He managed to shine beyond the dullness of the material. I can see why he was such a hit on Broadway. Being in Rough Crossing must feel like a million miles away from performing in Hello Dolly in New York along with Bette Midler and Bernedette Peters. (Lucky sod.)
Of the others, I quite liked Simon Dutton as Ivor. His timing was particularly good and he played his part very well. At least he was believable. Issy van Randwyck (Natasha), Matthew Cottle (Gil) and Rob Ostlere (Adam) were all fine if unremarkable.
During the interval and on the way home we came to the conclusion that the Yvonne Arnaud decision to only perform middle of the road, twee and safe plays means we won’t be going anymore. Except in exceptional circumstances of course.
The days of great theatre in Guildford appear to be at an end and, given the general state of audience mobility, they’ll not be getting up or down the stairs soon. I imagine it will be only used for panto in the coming years as the audiences pop off.
A shame but this might be the last time we visit what was once our favourite theatre.