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Review: Travesties, at Apollo Theatre

Tom Hollander stars in wonderfully zany, vintage Stoppard

02 March, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Tom Hollander in Travesties. Photo: Johan Persson

THE safety curtain is still down when an old duffer in dressing gown and straw hat climbs on to the stage seeking a way past it. It’s Tom Hollander as Henry Carr, a former British consular official in Switzerland.

On his knocking it rises on a surreal papers-strewn library and a tableau of characters who spark into action. In a great comic gobbet of gossip Carr talks about writing his memoir, what he calls his “senile reminiscence” and he’s back in Zurich in 1917 and his muddled memories of writer James Joyce, revolutionary Lenin and avant garde Dadaist poet and performer Tristan Tzara.

It is wonderfully zany: some scenes start several times continuing differently, fact is intercut with invention. Did they all know each other? Certainly Carr was in a production of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest that Joyce put on. Gwendolen and Cecily from that play become characters in this one.

It’s vintage Stoppard, wit and clever conversation come thick and fast. If it’s hard to keep up it’s because you’re too busy laughing.

The elderly Carr is a deliberate self-caricature but Hollander makes the young man, so keen to cut a dash, touchingly vulnerable. Freddie Fox, a flamboyant, hair-tossing Tzara, Forbes Masson, a Lenin trying to find ways of getting back to Russia and Peter McDonald’s Joyce, dictating Ulysses and Tim Waller as Carr’s butler, are always one step ahead of him, and make a very strong cast. Sarah Quist is Lenin’s wife, Clare Foster, Cecily, Henry’s sister, an admirer of Lenin courted by Tzara who gets to dance under a glitter ball and with Amy Morgan as Joyce’s secretary Gwendolen turns a tea scene into a music hall number.

There is an underlying argument on what is art and what’s its value: you can think about that later, when you have stopped laughing.

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