Tom Stoppard’s Travesties is an absurd, comedic rollercoaster, not without its surprising and heart-warming, human moments. Striking a skilful balance between mocking and venerating each of the legendary characters – we watch Lenin, Joyce and Tzara grapple with the meaning and role of art amidst war and revolution. We experience this motley assortment of twentieth century icons through the somewhat myopic gaze of Henry Carr, an amiable man working in the British Consulate, and something of a lovable buffoon. One of the fascinating things about Travesties is that these are figures we are all familiar with, but the plot takes them off the historical pedestal and puts them on a stage, creating a compelling study of larger-than-life characters.
Travesties doesn’t work off a linear plot; the first half of the play is just fanciful, ridiculous discussions of art and artists. This reliance on characters and dialogue necessitates adept actors with keen comic ability, and the cast of Bedlam’s production of Travesties for the most part pulls this off beautifully. Fergus Head’s Joyce is an approachable but deeply sardonic genius, with his sharp tongue executing the scripts shining moments with near perfect comedic timing. The mirth of the production really comes from Sally Mac’s outstanding portrayal of Tristan Tzara. She manages to carry dialogue-heavy scenes that otherwise drag, constantly maintaining the entertaining tone of self-aware frivolity, bouncing around the stage hollering Dadaist rhetoric. Dominic Sorrell’s endearingly senile Henry allows an entry point for this eclectic mix of characters, and while his performance is charming, it does not have the nuanced energy to match the other personalities on stage. Both Heather Daniel and Georgie Maria Rodgers impress in their respective roles as Gwendolen and Cecily, particularly in the interactions with their romantic interests and each other.
The comedy pervades use of set and costume (Joyce’s irreverent suit pairings, Henry’s use of muffins as fuel for moral deliberation) and serves to further develop and humanise these characters. The subtle use of technical special effects undercuts Henry’s ‘sketches’ about his time in Zurich and effectively drives the narrative forward to the culmination of his confusion, and clarity for the audience in the final scene. The set reflects this trajectory, becoming cluttered with an increasingly bizarre collection of props and posters as the truth of Henry reminiscing is called into question.
Additionally, what with the presence of extraordinary people, Travesties does an incredible job of being accessible. Riddled with references to The Importance of Being Earnest as well as esoteric historical events or art movements, Travesties is an enjoyable jaunt into the surreal and peculiar.
Image: Louis Caro