TRAVESTIES: Tom Stoppard
Birmingham Rep at Birmingham Old Rep
In rep with THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST till 22 October
Runs: 2h 35m, one interval.
Review: Rod Dungate 21 September 2011
Intelligent, thoughtful, informative showiness
Stoppard’s TRAVESTIES delights in its own wit and invention. Quite rightly so. But it’s not just showy, it’s much cleverer than that. Stoppard constructs a story around three major historical figures – Lenin, James Joyce, Tristan Tzara – in Zurich during the First World War. There is the bizarre detail of a consular official being sued for ticket money for an amateur production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. And a counter claim for the purchase of a pair of trousers.
Stoppard then requires us to view this historical oddity through the unreliable memories of the consular official, Henry Carr. So the narrative jumps about, replays itself in different variations, and hops into THE IMPORTANCE from time to time. The work we see comments on the reliability (or otherwise) of memory (aka history); yet it’s also as disjointed and as subject to chance, as Tzara’s Dadaist poems – and carries meaning in the same way. The medium is the message (and massage).
Intriguingly, though, director Philip Wilson and his team, go less for superficial show and more for internal, moment by moment, meaning. In a memorable moment in the first half, for instance, Carr is halted in his enjoyment of his reminiscence by a genuine memory of the howitzers pounding in the countries around Switzerland. The destruction of societies, the fragile nature of society, is kept in the background of our minds.
Wilson’s production is multi-multi layered. Three cheers.
This is a terrific team effort and the sense of a team enjoying themselves is infectious. And I’m going to resist the temptation to pick out individuals – watch them all.
This is performed in Birmingham’s Old Rep theatre and the added intimacy this provides is a bonus. I’ve waited more than 30 years to see a revival of TRAVESTIES and Wilson’s production was worth waiting for.
Gwen Carr: Emily Bowker
James Joyce: Nick Caldicott
Tristan Tzara: Tom Davey
Henry Carr: Matthew Douglas
Nadya: Abigail McKern
Cecily Carruthers: Emerald O’Hanrahan
Lenin: Roger Ringrose
Bennett: Giles Taylor
Director: Philip Wilson
Designer: Colin Falconer
Lighting Designer: Simon Bond
Composer: Paul Englishby
Sound Designer: Dan Hoole
Associate Director: Louise Hill
Casting Director: Kay Magson
Magic Consultant: Richard Pinner
Voice / Dialect Coach: Joe Windley
Movement: Etta Muirfitt