RATHER like the steamship Great Britain’s mighty engines, Craig Baxter’s homage to Victorian writer Anthony Trollope takes time to find its sea legs.

Trollope was by all accounts a difficult individual whose pugnacious attitude belied the fact that he wrote with great sensitivity and perception. Some of these character traits come through in this play… but not all.

The audience is asked to believe that the great man is aboard ship bound for Australia. To while away the time, he daily pens nine pages of prose before breakfast, as you do.

Such a prolific output allows him plenty of free time to hobnob with or insult his fellow passenger, depending on what takes his fancy. So there are two tales here, running in tandem.

One reason why the pistons of this piece take their time to start pumping is arguably down to Libby Watson’s meagre set, which just comprises either books suspended in mid-air or lying across the floor. Yes, we get it – Trollope’s a writer.

There are neat performances from Simon Robinson as the humble tailor Thwaite who falls for Lady Anna (Rhiannon Handy) and also Maggie O’Brien, who seamlessly doubles as Countless Lovel and Rose Trollope.

Meanwhile, Adam Scott-Rowley is not so much a trifle harassed, rather a harassed trifle as he turns his portrayal of Frederic Lovel into a kind of aristocratic Mr Bean.

And presiding over all this Victorian class-fettered consciousness is the cathedral figure of the great Trollope himself, played by Jonathan Keeble with a towering authority that might even have booming Brian Blessed green with envy.

Granted, it takes time to get going. But if you can plough through the first half of tortuous plot forming, this is actually a very clever play worth seeing. It runs until Saturday (October 1).

John Phillpott