Travesties

Theatre, Comedy
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 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Amy Morgan (Gwendolen), Peter McDonald (James Joyce), Clare Foster (Cecily)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Freddie Fox (Henry Carr)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Freddie Fox (Tristan Tzara)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Peter McDonald (James Joyce), Forbes Masson (Lenin) and Clare Foster (Cecily)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr)

Tom Hollander shines in Tom Stoppard's wild ride of a comedy

INTERVIEW: 'It's dick-swingingly difficult' – Tom Hollander on 'Travesties'

Take a moment to consider that Tom Stoppard was only in his mid-thirties when he penned the supremely self-confident sort-of-factual intellectual fireworks of ‘Travesties’ in 1974. It’s now 100 years since the half-true events the play depicts: in Zurich, 1917, Lenin (Forbes Mason), James Joyce (Peter McDonald) and the Dadaist Tristan Tzara (Freddie Fox) all cross paths with a British civil servant called Henry Carr – brilliantly performed by Tom Hollander in Patrick Marber’s very funny and highly-strung production.

 Hollander is pompous and preening in this essential revival which has transferred to the West End from the Menier Chocolate Factory. But he’s also fragile and endearing, the heart and soul of this wickedly playful and cerebral show. You imagine his Carr is a playwright’s confection, a stroke of the pen, but in fact he was a real-life figure who performed in Joyce’s amateur production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ended up suing the writer over something to do with a pair of trousers. Yes, you read that right.

 Trousers and ideas: they’re the twin, contrasting flavours of Stoppard’s busy, eccentric, dense farce, which manages to be on the one hand deeply absurd and silly and on the other extremely high-minded and full of ideas. Debates about war, art and politics sit alongside disco-ball dance interludes, dialogue spoken in limericks and a brilliant late scene sung by the two women in Carr’s life, Cecily (Clare Foster) and Gwendolen (Amy Morgan). If you recognise those last two names, Cecily and Gwendolen, you’ve got a hint of how Wilde’s own play is woven into the structure and tone of Stoppard’s. It’s a literary hall of mirrors. 

If you’re more used to respectful, heavily-footnoted historical drama, or plays that parcel up their ideas in neat goodie bags for you to chew over on the way home – forget it. This is brainy stuff, a young playwright’s cocky display of intellectual dick-swinging, but it’s also intensely entertaining and infectiously theatrical.

By: Dave Calhoun

Posted:

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AJCroasdale
tastemaker

'Travesties' is an unapologetically intellectual and utterly hilarious play.

Patrick Marber's new production, with Tom Hollander leading a fantastic cast, is pyrotechnic in its energy, and contemporary in its feel. The two hours thirty flies by as the improbable connections between a series of historical figures are remembered and misremembered by Hollander's character, Carr.


It's not all laughs though. There are serious points made about the nature of art, and the deterioration of Carr as an old man elicits a degree of pathos. The journey to power of Lenin also holds some uncomfortable resonances for today.


If you can catch it before the end of the run, you definitely should.

Elizabeth P
tastemaker

Clever, funny, serious and lighthearted. This is a wonderful play. There were times when it went completely over my head but even so the production was hugely entertaining. I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the referencing I did actually understand. The first 10 mins had me worried that it was going to be completely surreal but the premise of the main character reminiscing and misremembering his past is a brilliant tool. It is wordy and it is self indulgent but the silliness provides a balance. I'm always a fan of Tom Hollander but Freddie Fox was also exceptional and full of energy.

I rarely pay more than £15 for a theatre ticket but for I'm glad I made an exception and caught this before the end of the run.

And for all the parts that highlighted my ignorance I'm desperate to go and brush up on my political and literary history.

O. Gordon
Tastemaker

Ah, Stoppard. Intellectual fluff. Clever nonsense. An incessant oxy moron. To others, this may seem like insults but it is part of why I enjoy Stoppard's plays so much. Premiered in the 70's, this is much more akin to his first works and unlike his newer writing such as The Hard Problem. It is dense, fast, bewildering and beguiling. You constantly feel as though you're a line behind, missing the intellectual humour about literature, history and grammar. And then you relax. You fall into the rhythm. And then the play just takes you away. 


Brilliantly performed by a strong cast and energetically directly Marber, I really enjoyed Travesties. As a Stoppard fan who has never had the pleasure of reading or seeing it before, I really didn't know what to expect. Just like Shakespeare, a previous knowledge of what you're about to see is always beneficial and, whilst I think that also true in this case, it was still very enjoyable. If I saw every performance, I imagine there would be new bits of humour I would stumble across each night. It's so jam packed full of, for want of a better word, stuff, I can't see how this wouldn't engage most theatre going public. Just one warning for those who like light entertainment; concentration is required. 

Kate J

I love how layered Stoppard's plays are. They make you feel dumb for not getting it all (but surely, that's not even possible?), but also for having so many ideas blasted at you so fast and having a ball with it.
You don't have time to think who you agree with more or if you are getting all the Wilde points, but it sure is wonderful fun.
The cast and staging are fab and the whole evening is almost good enough to start reading Ulysses. Well, but only almost :)

Charlotte Sophia D

Absolutely fabulous. Incredible how Stoppard can have you leaving the Theatre feeling smarter than when you first walked in. Full of comedy and intelligence. I have now seen it twice and will not hesitate to go again!