Search This Blog

Monday 7 November 2016

Travesties, play by Tom Stoppard, Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 10* out of 10

Director Patrick Marber and his outstanding ensemble of actors perform Tom Stoppard’s hilariously funny rapid-fire succession of dialogue, movement, choreography and song to perfection.

In which tranquil European city could you have found the co-inventor of a modern art movement, the soon to be leader of superpower and the author of arguably the most influential, best known and most unread novel of 20th century world literature? The metropolis in question is no other than Zurich, the time period 1914 to 1919, not too long before the gnomes had replaced the radical thinkers and intellectuals with strong-rooms full of Krugerrands, Vreneli and all sorts of other valuables. 

In Tom Stoppard's comedy, Tristan Tzara (Freddy Fox), the Romanian-French avant-garde poet, cabaretier and co-founder of the Dadaism absurdist art-movement, James Augusta Joyce (Peter McDonald), the author of Ulysses and Vladimir Ulyanov (Forbes Masson) who would later be better known as Lenin, all possess a membership card to the Zurich municipal Library during and shortly after World War I. So does the lesser known Anthony Carr (Tom Hollander), a young British war veteran, and consular official, who, as the records of the Zurich courts show, will sue Joyce over the latter’s production of Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest in the Kaufleuten Hall in the centre of Zurich, in which Carr was among the cast. 

Tom Stoppard has meticulously researched the facts on which his witty and hilarious play is based. Many years after the events, an aged Anthony Carr reminisces about this vignette in the European history of the 20th century, in which as a member of the British consulate he had a small (or perhaps not so small?) role to play. Ostensibly though it is Lenin, Joyce and Tzara who are the protagonists of the events on stage. Although their female companions and love interests, Cecily Carruthers (Clare Foster) and Gwendolen Carr (Amy Morgan), and Nadya (Sarah Quist) and the indispensable butler Bennett (Tim Wallers) have more than minor roles and energise the story with the prospect of romance and international class struggle. The latter in the elegantly understated and restrained manner that befits the archetypal English butler.

The plot of Travesties mirrors and self-references Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Ernest” and is a firework of witty allusions in English, Russian, Latin and Dada delivered rapidly by an outstanding cast led by Tom Hollander. It is almost impossible to get all the jokes and allusions on seeing Travesties once, as every dialogue is meticulously crafted to deliver in rapid succession gags, jokes and wit including the breaking out in song and dance. Originally written in 1974, Travesties has something of Monty Python about it and must also have inspired creators of such British cult TV series as “Fawlty Towers” and “Blackadder”.

Travesties is such a complex rapid-fire succession of dialogue movement choreography and song, that it is anything but easy to perform it to perfection. But director Patrick Marber has managed to harness his outstanding ensemble of actors do just that. The production design by Tim Hatley matches this high standard. 

The packed house at the Menier Chocolate Factory enjoyed the hilarious treat presented to them and gave it more than one round of fully deserved rapturous applause. Highly recommended, a wonderful treat. 

On the evening we had come from Zurich to see the play I was surprised a casually distinguished older gentleman next to me noisily unwrapping a candy during Act 1. It was none other than the author Tom Stoppard himself, who had come to check out the production of his play. When we told him we had come from Zurich to see it, he said “How ironic!”.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant, classy review of what sounds like a brilliant, classy production. Ten chocolates for you, Alex