first night

Travesties

Alex Prescot receives a lesson in art, history and life with Lion Theatre Company's production.

 My previous experience of Stoppard, a quick reading of The Real Inspector Hound (which I’m looking forward to seeing later on this term), and the recent Arcadia tour, gave me high hopes for LTC’s Travesties, eagerly awaiting Stoppard’s unique mix of fierce intellectuality and atypical narrative. Both of these prerequisites were definitely satisfied in this production, though for me it was more a series of shining moments than a cohesive piece.

Travesties oscillates around a fictional meeting between Lenin, Tristan Tzara and James Joyce, who all happened to be living in Zurich in 1917, told from the unreliable perspective of the aging Henry Carr. First and foremost, huge congratulations must go to Alissa Cooper, Sam Humphriss and the whole team for the fantastic set - the scattered books and hanging pages set the scene perfectly for the madness that was to follow.

The material was tackled with real dedication, though the energy did have a tendency to abate slightly in the smaller scenes without the support of the full cast. It is tricky to negotiate Russian history and the intricacies of James Joyce’s Ulysses and keep an audience of students engaged, but this was for the most part successful - more dynamic blocking in places and selective cuts could have improved it further.

Alex Colville took on the mammoth part of Henry Carr, which he delivered with ease and remarkably sustained characterisation. His long passage at the beginning of the piece, too long for my taste, could’ve been more varied, and something more was needed to differentiate between the old and young Carr, but Colville has great comic timing and generally drove the piece. He bounced well off Rohan Perumantantri’s Tristan Tzara, though Perumantantri needs to be careful to maintain his character fully in between his lines. That said, he delivered some of the funniest lines of the play, and his general energy was to be commended. Annie Davison and Clarissa Lonsdale also formed a great comic duo as Gwendolen and Cecily respectively, though with tragically little stage time. This was a general issue I had with the play - characters often form mere threads in Stoppard’s narrative, but this was more a fault of the writing than the performance, with stronger relationships between characters needed to carry the piece beyond mere relentless intellectualism.

This play worked best when the whole cast were working together; there was singing, dancing and even some limerick-ing, and it was in these scenes that the play soared. Yes, some of the more wordy comedy might’ve landed better with an older audience, but the commitment of the cast to the material really shone through, and turned what could’ve been a merely disorientating evening into a disorientating but enjoyable one.

I’d like to congratulate Anna Jeary and LTC for being brave enough to tackle Travesties - it’s great at the moment to see DST thinking outside of the box with play choices. It may be flawed play, with Stoppard trying to be a little too clever, but I, and I think the rest of the audience, left with smiles on our faces, even if we were questioning what the hell had just happened. 

6 November 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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