Former EastEnders star and Celebrity MasterChef winner, John Partridge and Olivier Award nominee, Charlie Stemp tells us about their new roles in Bill Kenwright’s brand-new production of Tom Stoppard’s comedy, Rough Crossing.
What’s Rough Crossing about?
Charlie: It’s a play within a play set on a cruise liner heading from Southampton to New York. Two writers, Sandor Turai and Alex Gal, are writing a play called The Cruise of the Dodo. I play a character called Dvornichek, who is a waiter aboard the SS Italian Castle. The play follows them and their cast having to create a new play in a very short space of time. It’s very funny. The more I do it the more I realise how funny it is.
This is my first play. Trying to show that I can do other things has been a focus for me. I have Mary Poppins coming up next, and I love musical theatre, it’s my passion, but it’s great to do other things too.
John: I like to call it an ‘undiscovered Stoppard’. It was first done in 1984 at the National Theatre and it hasn’t really been done since. It’s set on an ocean liner travelling from Southampton to New York. The character I play, Sandor Turai, is finishing the play he’s writing with Alex Gal. Then we hit some rough water!
It is a Tom Stoppard play, so there is meaning upon meaning upon meaning. It is a comedy and it is very funny, but you have to pay attention because there is a lot to take in and there’s a lot to take away from it. There is a lot of physical comedy in this too. There is also a little singing and there might even be a little tap dancing. I’ve really enjoyed putting this together.
I haven’t done many plays. I toured in my first straight play last year. To now be doing a Stoppard, I feel very lucky. In many ways it’s been an education for me and I’m not too proud to say that. I wasn’t familiar with lots of Tom Stoppard. I haven’t seen much of his work, so when I knew I was doing this I picked up a collection of his plays and read it through. I frightened myself to death, but this is so well crafted and so well written that it has been great fun.
What is your character like?
John: I play Sandor Turai. It’s a huge role for me and a great character. He is flamboyant, serious, aggressive, kind. He’s a lot of things. I go from Oscar Wilde to Jack Nicholson in the space of five seconds. I also get to be physical. I get to dance a bit. I get to sing a bit. It’s like all my dreams came true in a Stoppard. My musical theatre background has been really good for this piece. And Charlie also has that musical theatre background. It means we’ve been able to give this play a little bit of that 1930s MGM feel about it and I think it works really well. Everybody’s party pieces are being used.
Charlie: Dvornichek spends most of the cruise trying to find his sea legs as he’s lied his way onto the ship. He’s worked as a waiter for most of his life, but on land, not on a ship. The role is great fun for someone like me who loves to be physical when performing.
How are you feeling about taking the show on tour?
John: Taking a brilliant play on the road that’s not been seen much. It feels exciting, it feels fresh. It’s a great honour for us to have this opportunity to take this rarely performed piece around the UK. That’s the thrill of doing something like this.
And I’m excited to see what the reaction to it will be. I am really looking forward to see if the audience thinks it’s as funny as we do.
I’m looking forward to playing Salford. I’m from Manchester, so the Partridge clan will descend on Salford. I love being back home. If I could live and work in Manchester I would. I hit that M62, my shoulders drop and I feel relaxed.
Charlie: I’m excited. I’ve never done a UK tour before. I’m going to try and see a bit more of Britain. As a kid we used to drive around the country for holidays, which was great. I’m looking forward to visiting places I’ve never been. My Dad worked in Manchester for a long time, so we used to go every other weekend. I’m looking forward to going up there again and having a look around. I’m excited about to everywhere on the tour, but all for different reasons. It definitely won’t get boring. Expect laughter, lots of cognac, intelligent, witty actors and lots of fun.
John, how do you look back on your time playing Christian in EastEnders?
John: I’m very fond of Christian and I’m very grateful to him. If I hadn’t played him I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now. I had a wonderful five years there, but as an actor I always want to play different parts. I’m always asked “Will you go back?” I just think, that was then; Christian’s very happy in Birmingham living an idyllic life with Syed. Long may he do so.
Have the Rough Crossing cast been taking advantage of having a Celebrity MasterChef winner on the team?
John: In rehearsals, we had a little breakfast club in the morning to do our lines. I brought banana cookies or a flourless chocolate cake. MasterChef defined where I was in my life at that time. I don’t want to say it was life changing, but it certainly helped me. Cooking the food from my past helped me to live in my present. My food story is far from over. My food career is something that will run alongside my acting career from now on. And I am constantly cooking for everybody… but I love it.
Charlie, you made your name starring in Half a Sixpence. When did you become aware of the effect it was having on your career?
Charlie: When I was nominated for an Olivier Award. That was the time when I thought, “Maybe it’s not just people blowing smoke.”
It was an exhausting whirlwind. I loved it. I had a smile on my face the entire time. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; learning everything, keeping myself fit and healthy. I was tea total for the entire year. That show was a big ask. I was basically running half a marathon every night. But it was incredible.
Rough Crossing is at The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays from 18 – 23 February 2019.
Read our review.
See website for full tour details.