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Travesties review at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London – ‘bemusing and amusing’

Tom Hollander in Travesties at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Photo: Johan Persson

I must begin with a confession: there are great big chunks of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 fizzing firework of a play when I simply don’t have a clue what it is about or what is going on.

Somehow, and based on fact, writer James Joyce, revolutionary thinker Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Dada activist Tristan Tzara and a minor British consul official Henry Carr are all based in Zurich in 1917 as the First World War is being waged. Meanwhile, in Stoppard’s busy intellectual vaudeville, a different kind of war is being fought between them: one over words and ideas on art, literature and politics.

There’s a lot of intellectual posturing, by turns dizzying, delirious and occasionally hilarious. Stoppard casts it as a memory play, as Carr, now a tottering old man, revisits this seminal moment in his life, one in which he also happened (again, a fact) to be appearing in a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as Algernon. And, as the characters from that comedy become meshed with the real-life ones in this play, it allows Stoppard to liberally borrow and subvert some Wildean aphorisms.

Playwright turned director Patrick Marber, whose own debut play Dealer’s Choice was revived at the Menier, returns to stage a rigorous and vigorous new production, fielding a cast that is pure comedy gold. Tom Hollander, Freddie Fox, Peter McDonald and Forbes Masson are embodied in larger-than-life brushstrokes as Henry Tristan Tzara, James Joyce and Lenin respectively, but it is in two of the supporting performances that the comedy really shines. Clare Foster is irresistibly funny as well as alluring as a librarian called Cecily, while Tim Wallers is a scene-stealing butler.

Tom Stoppard's dense comedy is given a playfully amusing, occasionally bemusing outing

Production Information

Menier Chocolate Factory
September 22, 2016
November 19, 2016
Press night
October 4, 2016
Tom Stoppard
Adam Cork
Patrick Marber
Tim Hatley
Neil Austin
Adam Cork
Tim Hatley
Polly Bennett (movement), Sabrina Cuniberto (costume supervisor)
Stage manager
Martin Hope (company stage manager)
Production manager
Simon Sturgess
Cast includes
Clare Foster, Freddie Fox, Tom Hollander, Forbes Masson, Peter McDonald, Amy Morgan, Sarah Quist, Tim Wallers
Menier Chocolate Factory
Running time
2hr 25 mins