Watching bumbling waiter Dvornichek knocking back his umpteenth cognac (the play’s running – and painfully tedious – gag) instead of serving it, I couldn’t help wondering whether Tom Stoppard was having a little fun at the audience’s expense.

Was Rough Crossing one big, frankly absurd, joke? Was he daring us to find depth or even a sliver of meaning in this meandering, erratic and utterly pedestrian farce.

Or was I just missing the point?

The jury is still out on that one.

Set on a New York-bound ocean liner, Stoppard’s free reworking of Ferenc Molnár's The Play at the Castle follows Turai and Gal, famous playwrights wracking their brains to knock their newest musical play into shape ready for its Broadway debut in exactly four and a half days. As though things couldn't possibly get any worse, their delicate composer Adam (who suffers from a strange malady that prevents him from speaking when he wishes to) overhears his fiancée, the upcoming show’s leading lady, confess her feelings to her co-star and former lover Ivor, throwing a spanner in the works. Cue an absurdly hapless waiter – whose only saving grace is his uncanny ability to untangle and sum up the most twisty turny of story lines – and a mis-timed lifeboat drill and the most half-hearted lovers’ tiff in theatre history.

Most infuriating of all is Stoppard’s reticence to exploit to their full potential (or obliviousness to?) the story’s clear comic drivers; and his insistence on throwing bons mots and mile-a-minute tirades at the plot-holes. Natasha’s betrayal could have been comedy gold had he bothered to let it play out. Instead we’re subjected to a mind-numbing rehearsal scene as she and Ivor muddle through the convoluted script and three (or more I lost count) cases of mistaken identity, while Adam, bizarrely, behaves as though the affair has just slipped his mind.

Not even John Partridge’s charisma, infectious energy – and ability to imbue the one-note Turai with surprising depth, all things considered – nor the cracking chorus line finale are enough to rescue this confused and confusing snoozefest.

Rough Crossing runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday, March 2