Travesties*** (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Posted: October 12, 2016 in Theatre

travestiesThere are two Tom Stoppards. One works within a disciplined framework – examples being The Real ThingHapgood, and the screenplays – where his writing gives richness and depth to characters and stories. This is the other Stoppard – undisciplined, self-indulgent, intellectual and absurdist. The play dates back to 1974, not long after the success of Jumpers, written in similar style. It centres (roughly) around the recollections of Henry Carr (Tom Hollander), an official with the British Consulate in Zurich in 1917, a time when others finding a Swiss haven in the middle of war-torn Europe included James Joyce (Peter McDonald), Tristan Tzara (Freddie Fox) and Lenin (Forbes Masson), who was, of course, keeping an eye on revolting developments in his homeland.

Familiar Stoppard themes, including espionage, English eccentricity and Eastern European politics, go into the melting pot and director Patrick Marber makes the concoction sizzle, with flair and invention, adding the odd (very odd!} song and dance to the mix. Mockery of other writers abounds, with a performance of modified scenes from Wilde’s The Importance of Being Algernon {or is it the other one?) included. Hollander is magnificent and the entire ensemble (Clare Foster, Amy Morgan, Sarah Quist and Tim Wallers are the others) performs with gusto. They are entitled to congratulate themselves both for conquering the verbal gymnastics and remembering their complex lines. In all the play is witty but uneven, sometimes hilarious, sometimes too clever by half and it all starts to melt away from the memory within five minutes of leaving the theatre.

Performance date: 11 October 2016

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