Monday, 22 October 2007

Rough Crossings - Liverpool Playhouse

Rough Crossings by Simon Schama
Adapted by Caryl Phillips

Playhouse 16th – 27th October & Tour
Directed by Rupert Goold

Reviewed by John Garfield-Roberts

One has to sit back and admire how well Rupert Goold is doing, but the question is, is he just this season’s hot property or is he here for the long haul? My answer would be if he isn’t either running the national or the RSC within the next ten years then something has surely gone amiss.

Aside from that praise has Rupert Goold started to spread himself to thin? After watching his latest production and much deliberation with myself, I have come to the conclusion that Goold has done his utmost to make this a good show, but with the script by Caryl Phillips boarding on Degree based history lecture, Goold was never going to be able to produce anther critical production such as his Chichester production of Macbeth.

Rough Crossings tells the heroic story of the resettlement of a group of former slaves in West Africa and of the bruising relationship between Peters and Clarkson, divided by the barriers of race, but united in their ambitions of equality. Moving from the meeting houses of London to the inhospitable terrain of Sierra Leone

Philips’ adaptation is one of many facades not knowing if it wants to be a touching moving story or a fact based lecture-drama, but Goold has done his utmost to make the long and over factual play interesting, but unfortunately it isn’t enough to make this play the “masterpiece” it could have been.

Goold is known for his inventive and creative abilities and Rough Crossings has many but again I can’t help feeling that even those were helped so much by an extremely creative and at times breathtakingly simple set designed by Laura Hopkins.

It would be hard to pick out any actors of substance in the performance I saw, in a small rep theatre such as the Playhouse being able to project throughout the space isn’t a big challenge (I’ve been there and done it!) but to find it hard to hear the actors on stage from 8 rows into the auditorium I find quite frankly unforgivable. The strength of the ensemble performance are the movement and group singing moments especially when sung by powerful singer Dawn Hope these moments really do have a strength and poignancy in what otherwise is a tiresome affair.

Goold could have had a gold mine in this production but my guess is with 5 co-producing theatres involved this could have been a classic case of “too many cooks”… if Goold can get his team back into the proverbial kitchen take out some nasty ingredients and strip away the fat from a play that should be no longer than two hours add a bit more of his creative herbs and spices and I think Rough Crossings could be ok to serve to the paying public again.

Photos by Manuel Harlan top: Wunmi Mosaku and Patrick Robinson. middle: The Company. Bottom:Dawn Hope and Peter De Jersey

Rough Crossings goes to the WYP from the 6th-24th November for more information please visit

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