Six years after he was last on stage, Tom Hollander is finally making his West End debut, in Tom Stoppard’s crazed, hyper-intellectual comedy ‘Travesties’. He plays Henry Carr, a vain British diplomat in febrile 1917 Switzerland, who is – for complicated reasons – persuaded to star in a production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ directed by James Joyce.
You’ve not done a play in six years. Why?
‘They’re quite scary: if they go wrong, there’s no escape, you have to feel it not working night after night. That isn’t the case with this, though!’
‘Travesties’ is a hyper-intellectual, multi-genre romp. If plays are scary, why do one so hard?
‘Every so often I need to prove to myself that I still can. In this case, I needed to prove to myself that I can learn it. The funny thing about acting is the older actors get the more emotional range they have and the more interesting their faces are. But as you get older your facilities diminish and your body hurts and your memory isn’t as good. There’s a sort of perfect moment when you’re as interesting as you’re ever going to be and just at that moment you start to be unable to remember lines. Obviously I hope I haven’t got there yet.’
Were you already familiar with it?
‘I studied it at school and had a sort of nostalgia for it, and I’ve had a few conversations over the years about doing a Tom Stoppard play but it’s never worked out before. It’s a wonderful part. Also, my father played Algernon as a young man in a production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” in which he met my mother who was playing Cecily. And that’s what I’m doing in this play: Henry Carr marries the woman playing Cecily.’
Tom Hollander in 'Travesties'. Photo: Johan Persson
‘There’s something magnificent about it in the way there’s something ridiculous and magnificent about a Fabergé egg’
‘Travesties’ is nuts – almost art for art’s sake. What’s the point?
‘I think for some people it’s perfectly legitimate to say there is no point, as there isn’t with a lot of art. It’s worth doing because it’s completely brilliantly written. And it’s kind of defiantly, dick-swingingly difficult; it isn’t necessarily trying to curry favour or please you. There’s something magnificent about it in the way there’s something ridiculous and magnificent about a Fabergé egg, which has no function, no necessity, is completely pointless and yet is brilliant.’
Is it the ultimate entertainment for the liberal elite?
‘You might say that “Travesties” is a decadent product of a liberal intelligentsia for a decadent liberal intelligentsia who have just been overthrown by the Brexiteers and the Trumpians. And yet this world I find less scary than the one that’s just overthrown it.’
Is ‘Rev’ 100 percent over – no Christmas specials, no nothing?
‘Yeah. I don’t think we’ve got any more to say on the subject, and maybe we were starting to repeat ourselves just a little bit. It was right to leave it where we left it.’
‘Travesties’ is at the Apollo Shaftesbury until Apr 29.