Travesties, Apollo Theatre, review: ‘Tom Hollander is a haunted, self-important dandy’

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr) in Travesties. Picture: Johan Persson

Tom Hollander (Henry Carr) in Travesties. Picture: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

The triumph of Partick Marber’s production of Stoppard’s play is the way it honours Stoppard’s dazzling intellect while also going full throttle with the piece’s playful, sometimes bonkers, wit

After a hit run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Patrick Marber’s storming revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play gets a welcome West End encore. The triumph of this production is the way it honours Stoppard’s dazzling intellect while also going full throttle with the piece’s playful, sometimes bonkers, wit.

Tom Hollander is Henry Carr, a senile British consular official (mis)remembering his time in Zurich during the First World War. This unreliable narrator allows Stoppard to tweak history, bringing together several pioneering figures who did indeed pop up in Switzerland around 1917: Lenin, plotting his return to revolutionary Russia; Dada founder Tristan Tzara; and James Joyce, in the midst of creating Ulysses.

The form of the play is stunningly refracted through its subjects. There’s a bravura pastiche of The Importance of Being Earnest, a production of which results in Carr taking Joyce to court, plus impassioned socialist debate, espionage hijinks, Joycean limericks, and scenes slashed and spliced together like Dadaist cut-up poetry.

Amongst this linguistic whirlwind, there are resonant ideas about the meaning ascribed to words like “patriotism” as justification for war, and the duty of artists when faced with social turmoil. If words become unmoored, a mysterious, transporting force, or is that a dangerous indulgence?


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Marber’s energetic production, featuring superb musical skits and magic tricks (with an assist from Tim Hatley’s versatile paper-strewn set), is slickly delivered by a game cast.

Hollander treads a delicate line with his younger Carr, a self-important dandy haunted by his experience in the trenches, while Amy Morgan and Clare Foster provide the evening’s highlight with their fizzing passive-aggressive duet. Great support, too, from Freddie Fox’s flamboyant Tzara, Forbes Masson’s wild-eyed Lenin and Peter McDonald’s heartfelt Joyce. Sublime silliness with an all-too-serious core.

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5/5 stars

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