A play set in Zurich 1917 involving James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Lenin surely sounds like a comedy waiting to be told?! Tom Stoppard’s Travesties finds a sense of joy in the most intellectual of conversation.
Taking the role of narrator, Tom Hollander plays Henry Carr, a minor British diplomat in Zurich 1917 as he reminisces his encounters with figures that would go on to be cultural icons of the twentieth century. Bursting with facts and figures on topics such as Dadaism or Futurism, Patrick Marber’s production searches for the comedy in a particularly complex historical period, even when its at its most serious. At times, however, the production can feel smug in its intellectualness and humorising such niche cultural references and movements.
Ultimately, the main topic of discussion is the importance and meaning of art and its creator. However profound this is, its fast pace and enthusiasm for the layers of cultural analysis, particularly with performers such as Freddie Fox, keeps the mood light-hearted throughout. Mr. Fox as Tristan Tzara is extraordinary in his stage presence, diction of dialogue and oozing with charm, able to hold his own in any solo situation. Hollander is also brilliant in bringing out the depth of dialogue, along with his frankness of tone. The two leading ladies that are Gwendolyn (Amy Morgan) and Cecily (Clare Foster) are also good in their pace, along with showcasing the cleverness of timing and rhyme schemes at certain points of the script. There are many different dramatic forms, from limericks to repetitions of scenes and spoken song which maintain interest throughout, along with the women’s life choices of choosing intellect over love which is a particularly nice touch.
Tim Hatley’s set design provides no changes, but creates intrigue in his flexibility of entrances and exits and lighting, particularly in a train scene creating the carriage with the use of one lightbulb at the front. But whilst the physical element of Travesties can gain easy laughs, a certain high amount of knowledge is required for full enjoyment. As Tsara points out in one scene, “It may be nonsense, but at least it’s not clever nonsense,” I’d hate to think what they’d consider ‘clever’! Mind well and truly blown, but whether this is the intention or that the audience should be understanding each and every fact and reference is what confuses me.
A larger sense of appreciation for Patrick Marber’s production resonates more than a sense of likability.Saying that, this historical farce is a blast from the past adding a unique sense of intelligence to physically humorous staging, leaving each audience to have at least some access to such high-brow comedy.
Reviewed by Jack Grey
TRAVESTIES plays at the Apollo Theatre until 29 April 2017. Book tickets