Amongst the plethora of jukebox musicals and long-running shows it’s a refreshing change to have an intellectual play taking centre stage in the West End.
Tom Stoppard’s revival of Travesties, now playing at the Apollo Theatre, having transferred from the Mernier Chocolate Factory, delivers a triumphant melange of ideas surrounding art and literature, all set in a library in Switzerland in 1917.
There is no denying this is Britian’s finest living Jewish playwright, Tom Stoppard, at his best. From the very first monologue that works as a prologue, we are thrown into the absurdist world of his creation, where he feasibly teams Lenin, James Joyce and founder of Dadaism, the precursor of Surrealism, Tristan Tzara and all set in motion off the axis of Henry Carr, a British diplomat and amateur thespian.
Tom Hollander, fresh from The Night Manager, is dazzling and dazed as both the senior and muddled Carr and his younger more effervescent self.
Quite how Hollander and the rest of the assured company retain the lengthy and dense text is a feat in itself, but the ability to add meaning and humour is extraordinary, catapulting the play from what could potentially be a mess of ideas, words and themes to a meandering masterpiece.
Travesties is not a play that an audience can switch off from and exhale – it is quite the opposite and you find yourself leaning forward inhaling the language, the rhythm and the pace. Thanks to Patrick Marber’s considered direction the action does not get swallowed by the text and vice versa, coupled with the oppressive stage design of tall library book shelves looming ominously over its players, never letting them forget their place within literature and by proxy their place in the world.
Travesties is saved from being a travesty by its humour; in the quick interplay between Joyce’s limericks and the absurdist bon vivant of song, breaks the heaviness of intellectual debate, achieving a most satisfying balance.
Travesties runs at the Apollo Theatre London until April 29. Details: nimaxtheatres.com