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New Zealand Listener Review 21 July 2002


But along came Raymond

TRAVESTIES, by Tom Stoppard; directed by Raymond Hawthorne, ATC, Maidment Theatre, to August 17.

Tom Stoppard, done well, ought to fly.  He is erudite, witty, urbane.  Sadly, Raymond Hawthorne's unengaging and superficial production of Travesties remains stubbornly on the ground.  Style reigned over content, and contrived movements and a slick and glossy finish obscured the play.

Travesties is early Stoppard.  Zurich in 1917 was the home of Tristan Tzara, the dadaist, James Joyce and Lenin (not at precisely the same time but this is art), and Stoppard uses this coincidence to explore the nature of art, the role of the artist, socialist theory, the class struggle, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, trousers and much more besides.  The central figure in this surreal concoction is Henry Carr, a minor official at the British Embassy, and what Stoppard imagines might have occurred between these men is recalled through Carr's vainglorious and unreliable memory.

Where was the irony, the lightness of touch?  It emerged briefly with Lenin and Nadya (Paul Gittins and Nancy Schroder) at the beginning of Act II, but for the most part the action was intellectually, emotionally and comically simplistic.  From the opening moments the production hit a rather breathless and declamatory tone and by Act II, wearied by one-dimensional characterisations and the absence of nuance and subtlety, even the delightful Cecily and Gwendolen scene and the exuberant dancing failed to engage me.

Tracy Grant's elegant set was underserved and the placement of the action seemed at times mystifyingly arbitrary, as in Act II when Lenin is suddenly in Carr's sitting room.  There are some fine actors in the cast, but the production does not allow them to shine.  Michael Edward is miscast as Carr; it requires an actor of greater maturity and experience to occupy the crucial centre of the play.  Anna Meech is a fine Cecily and Michael Hurst as Joyce and Ross Girven as Tzara have some lovely moments.

But display is no substitute for character, and as Carr's weakness was his sartorial vanity so Hawthorne's is his preoccupation with the cut and look of the production--but not its content.  I saw a great deal of "acting", but I did not see Tom Stoppard's play, Travesties.

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