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Travesties

Published 5 October 2016

What’s it all about?

Minor British consul Henry Carr remembers life in 1917 Zurich, Switzerland – but can’t quite recall some of the details.

Announcing his memoirs to us and reminiscing with a comic fragility, Henry’s timelines soon become muddled, and the magnitude of events emphasised, as he confuses his performance in Oscar Wilde’s seminal play The Importance Of Being Earnest with his acquaintance of avant-garde artist Tristan Tzara, his friendship of novelist James Joyce, and even his efforts to halt the progress of Lenin, who is on the cusp of commanding the Bolshevik revolution.

Originally penned in 1974, Sir Tom Stoppard’s historical and literary masterpiece is revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory with playful and joyous spirit, playing up the discrepancies of Henry’s recollections with a cavalcade of diverging scenes, puns, limericks, the Dada movement, sonnets, vaudeville, word play, Wildean witticisms and even musical interludes. As with the insides of our narrator’s mind, you won’t know what’s coming next.

Who’s in it?

Tom Hollander gives an outstanding leading performance as Henry, a man lost – comically, not tragically, as he is quick to point out – in his memories of the influential figures in Zurich at that time. Showing tremendous dexterity, deliberation and tenderness – as well as some impressive piano playing skills – the whole stage truly reflects the interior of his mind, as he brilliantly weaves between his entangled memories, often hilariously.

A fantastic supporting cast helps to knit the confusion together, in particular the engaging Freddie Fox as avant-garde Dada-movement figurehead Tristan, the sharply cutting Clare Foster as an acid-tongued Cecily, and the subtly scene-stealing Tim Wallers as Henry’s communist sympathising butler.

What should I look out for?

A masterclass in how to write a Shakespearean sonnet… by picking words out of a hat.

Henry’s contrastingly chilling, beautifully delivered monologue on his memories at the front.  

A hilarious musical battle of Wildean wit between Earnest’s Gwendolen and Cecily, to the tune of vaudeville’s Mister Gallagher And Mister Shean. Well, it makes sense in context – sort of…

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In a nutshell?

An extraordinary performance from Tom Hollander anchors Stoppard’s crackling comedy of muddled memories and highbrow hilarity.

Travesties plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 19 November. Please visit the venue’s website for further information.

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