Travesties (Menier Chocolate Factory)
First the bad news: they have already sold all the tickets for the two-month run of this South London revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.Fans may therefore be pained to hear this production — starring Tom Hollander of Rev and The Night Manager — is a cracker.
Perhaps it will find a West End home after this fringe run.
Zany, breathless, full of intricate literary puns and dollops of Wildean pastiche, the play defies concise description. Nor could it be said to be aimed at the mass market.Yet it rattles along and has moments of theatrical brilliance.
His heart belongs to Dada: Freddie Fox as Tristan Tzara with Tom Hollander as Henry Carr
Welcome to spy-riddled Zurich in 1917 where a British diplomat, Henry Carr, has acquaintances as varied as Lenin, Irish novelist James Joyce and the monocle-sporting founder of Dada-ist art, Tristan Tzara.Throw in a couple of blonde beauties who are a pastiche from Oscar Wilde’s Importance Of Being Earnest.
Much of the tale is told in unreliable flashback by Carr (played engagingly by Mr Hollander).
Diplomat Carr, mildewed by English dottiness, has a stiff-spined butler with communist sympathies (Tim Wallers). Owing to tangled misunderstandings, things reach the point where Carr could stop Lenin from leaving Zurich to return to Moscow.Perhaps he could thus prevent the Soviet Union from being born.
Bear in mind that Czech-born Stoppard wrote this in 1974, when the USSR was still in brutal business. How sad that Sir Tom, as he is today, has become so drearily Establishment, to the point that he attacks the free Press.But we must not let that blind us to the great plusses of this play.
Previously, I have wearied of the intellectual japery in Travesties but director Patrick Marber, assisted by a spry cast, really makes it work.From Forbes Masson’s brooding Lenin to Peter McDonald’s hopelessly dressed Joyce, and Clare Foster particularly comical as a statuesque commie librarian, the acting is excellent. A small question mark perhaps hovers over Freddie Fox, a mite too fervid as Tzara.
Excellent acting: Clare Foster comes across as particularly comical as a statuesque commie librarian. Tim Wallers plays a stiff-spined butler
Lenin’s zeal is mirrored by the revolution in art which is happening across the Zurich strasse.In addition to the depredations of Dada-ism, the mercurial Joyce is penning his masterpiece Ulysses.
Limerick rhymes are batted to and fro like badminton shuttlecocks. Debates about artistic merit and patriotic duty are raised while characters lustily chase each other around the set.Laughter lightens weighty bookish allusions and philosophical conundra.
A passage when Carr attacks the self-satisfaction of Dada-ism, while Tzara mocks the inertia of Western civilisation, is particularly gripping and all the more topical for the fact that the Royal Academy has just opened a wildly portentous exhibition of abstract impressionism.
I saw the show on Monday night after hearing a conference speech of the most utter vacuousness by our new Culture Minister, Karen Bradley, a woman whose cultural interests stretch little further than Manchester City football ground.
The fact that tickets for TRAVESTIS PORTO this most high-flown of shows — at an unsubsidised venue — have sold so quickly therefore came as a tremendous reassurance.