15 December 2010
Tom Stoppard’s TRAVESTIES,
"Oxford Theatre Guild, Simpkins Lee Theatre. "
By: A theatre review by Julia
Whatever else you are doing between now and next Saturday, drop
it and ring Ox. 305305 immediately to book for TRAVESTIES at
the Simkins Lee Theatre at Lady Margaret Hall. This hilarious
show is unmissable and the funniest thing you will see all
Stoppard’s play, written in 1974, has been called surrealist,
an example of Theatre of the Absurd, and a "philosophical
farce". This is sophisticated humour, full of paradox and
scintillating wit alongside doggerel verse and bits of utterly
silliness. If we wish, we can see it as a serious exploration
of the difficulty of making sense of life and creating a
synthesis of its disparate elements. Stoppard stumbled on the
fact that James Joyce, Tristran Tzara and Lenin were all in
Zurich around the same time in 1917, and that Joyce had been
involved in putting on a production of Wilde’s “The Importance
of Being Earnest” in the middle of the hideous carnage of the
First World War. This had led to him being sued by a minor
consulate official, Henry Carr, for the cost of a pair of
trousers used in the production.
From that combination of the bizarre and the banal, Stoppard
weaves a fantasy in which Carr meets all three of these
political and artistic revolutionaries in Zurich and gets
thoroughly mixed up with them and his own unreliable memories
of what took place. Could Lenin, while planning the Russian
Revolution, have bumped into Joyce, writing his masterpiece
Ulysses, at the Zurich public library? Could Tzara, the
rebellious exponent of Dadaism, and Carr, a stock conventional
type, have played Algernon and Jack and been rivals for the
same young lady? What is the purpose and justification of art
in a world of war and revolution? Stoppard takes these themes
and develops them mischievously like a composer weaving a
fugue, using a medley of different accents and parodic styles.
It is masterly and it is very entertaining.
This production by the Oxford Theatre Guild has a very strong
cast, led by Alastair Nunn in the hugely demanding marathon
rôle of Henry Carr. Craig Finlay is a very believable, untidy
and badly-dressed James Joyce, and Tim Bearder is an
appropriately exaggerated Tzara, enfant terrible of
anti-establishment art and lifestyle. Meanwhile, Peter Green
makes an amazingly convincing Lenin. He is almost uncanny and
is very well-supported by Laura Kurovska as his wife Nadezhda.
Fleur Yerbury-Hodgson as Cecily and Monica Hash as Gwendolen
give polished and stylish performances.
Everything about this production is good and it makes a
wonderful inaugural show for the newly-built Simpkins Lee
Theatre in Lady Margaret Hall. The theatre is plush and
comfortable, well-heated and raked so that everybody can see
and hear. Altogether this is a great night out.
To find out more: