Updated: May 31
Bill Kenwright Productions
1 hour 55 minutes including interval
February 18 2019 - February 23 2019 and then touring.
I reckon when it comes to twentieth century English language text-based entertaining theatre with a twist or two and a little intellectual stimulation, Tom Stoppard is usually pretty hard to beat.
I’ve long complained we provincials are far too starved of his work but I fondly remember, in particular, Jumpers at the Royal Exchange, with Tom Courtenay and Julie Walters (back in the 80s I think), and the late-lamented Library Theatre’s Arcadia (at The Lowry, not that long ago). Absolutely wonderful both.
So, I was really grateful touring impresario supremo Bill Kenwright is chancing his box office with this tour of one of Stoppard’s lesser-known efforts, not one I or anyone else around here I suspect has ever had the pleasure of seeing before.
And he’s doing it with a cast, ocean liner set and respected director that must surely have been aimed at a West End docking at some time in the future. As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to see it. But in the event, oh dear, oh dear...
It’s the 1930s and successful Hungarian (it’s adapted from an original by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar) collaborator playwrights Sandor Turai (Celebrity Masterchef winner John Partridge) and Alex Gal (Matthew Cottle) are aboard the SS Italian Castle as it sets sail for New York, desperately trying to rehearse their latest show before their looming opening night.
With them is their young French composer Adam (Rob Ostlere) and his fiancee, the glamorous leading lady Natasha Navratilova (Issy Van Randwyck), who is having an affair with the leading man (Simon Dutton).
Confusion is piled on confusion by Adam’s attempts to commit suicide after overhearing the illicit declaration of love by his beloved and the attempts by others to persuade him the amorous exchange was in fact just a script rehearsal.
Add to this a waiter who delivers and downs a succession of brandies via a supremely silly series of staggering walks (Charlie Stemp, one of our brightest new stars, here with some impossible material to sell and occasionally succeeding) and you might perhaps think there is the basis for a reasonably amusing evening. Several people recently must have done when the project was in the planning stages.
Unlike the play, I’m not going to labour things but just say the evening simply doesn’t work.
The tour is now into its third week and the problems haven’t been solved.
The cast is a very strong one that has done admirable work elsewhere, and is clearly trying its best here -but to little avail.
The main problem is, I think, Stoppard’s script, which is too densely packed to be successfully delivered. Amusing lines and situations surface, but only occasionally. For the rest of the time one loses the will to try to follow it.
I presume director Rachel Kavanaugh is still around, trying to throw everyone a lifebelt - but I’m not sure a rescue is possible.