Travesties, Apollo Theatre, London. March 2017.
After the wonderful performance of Hamlet in the afternoon there was always a danger that the second play of the day will be a let down and as Stoppard has a reputation for being 'hard'.
It started ominously when Tom Hollander shuffled into the theatre acting as an old man wearing slippers and a dressing gown. We then met all the protagonists of the drama in a crazy, frenetic scene and I was left feeling bewildered and totally at sea.
It calmed down in some ways as it became clear that the old man was the 'now' and the other scenes were his memories. It got a bit confusing again when scenes started playing and then replaying themselves all slightly differently.
The plot of the play was full of information as the basic plot is that the old man, Henry Carr, is the British consul in Zurich in 1917 at the same time that James Joyce, Lenin and Tristan Tzara (one of the founders of Dadaism) were living there and that all of them crossed paths in the library.
In this play they all get to explain their ideas and ideologies and so much information is thrown at the audience that by the interval my head was reeling. Oh and thanks to the stage props I was also craving cucumber sandwiches!
After the interval the play continues in much the same vein, scenes played and replayed interspersed with appearances from the elderly Carr. However as the play comes to an end you realise that the replaying of scenes isn't indicating the passing of time (as I'd thought) but the unreliable memories of a man trying to write his memoirs. So much of what he remembers is incorrect that I came out wondering if any of the facts/ideologies presented by Joyce et. al. were true and this took away some of the shine of the play - I guess that I have a lot of reading around the topic to undertake!
Mixed in with all of this confusion are jokes, songs, dances and a wonderful sub plot comprising of a farce plus a play within a play and while I came out confused and questioning I also came out smiling after having had a lot of fun at the theatre - just unsure if I can trust anything I learned during the 2 1/2 hours.
Interestingly the one bit of the play I know to be true involved Lenin, the Russian Revolution and his return to Russia in 1917. These historical events happened exactly 100 years ago on the day we saw the play which did add some poignancy to the play, and accuracy here makes me hope that the explanations of communism etc were also correct.
The programme summed the play up as Oscar Wilde meets Monty Python and I can see this - but I'd add in a dash of Open University to account for the vast amounts of information included.