Rough Crossing/Malvern Theatres

WHAT a missed opportunity indeed. Here we had John Partridge and Charlie Stemp treading the same boards… and yet their dance talents were kept to the barest minimum.

EastEnders star Partridge trained at the Royal Ballet School and Stemp has been cast in the leading role in a remake of Half a Sixpence, reprising Tommy Steele’s famous part.

These two are plainly no slouches in the twinkle toes department. So why was it only in the dying moments of this Tom Stoppard monument to verbosity that they were allowed to strut their not inconsiderable stuff?

Answer. Nothing must be allowed to get in the way of the great man’s words.

This therefore begs the following questions. Is it a farce? Is it a musical? Or – and this is more likely - is it perhaps a farce of a musical?

Stoppard’s play is set aboard a cruise liner that’s in mortal danger of sinking under the weight of the writer’s verbiage.

Tellingly, the audience has a wave tip’s eye view of the doomed ship on which two playwrights agonise over such pressing issues as writer’s block and the fact that their musical composer is going soft in the head over a one-sided love affair.

Designer Colin Richmond’s set, by the way, is fabulous. But how I longed for a latter-day Rose and Jack to suddenly start perching on the prow, Titanic-style, leading us to hope that an iceberg would suddenly loom out of the darkness and put us all out of our misery.

Nevertheless, as torrents of words well up from steerage and overwhelm everything not nailed down, there are frequent lighter moments, such as the recurring brandy-drinking gag courtesy of Stemp’s waiter character.

And Issy Van Randwyck gloriously vamps it up as Natasha, who is not just over the top, but plainly overboard as well.

However, the problem is that Stoppard doesn’t let this story breathe. The sheer volume of dialogue sucks out every last vestige of oxygen from what could have been a promising plot.

Rough Crossing runs until Saturday (March 9).

John Phillpott