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New Zealand Herald Review 22 July 2002


Travesties at The Maidment
22.07.2002 By FRANCIS TILL

Complex as any strand of DNA and just as fertile, Tom Stoppard's classic Travesties is a heady, hilarious romp that has been knocking audiences out for nearly 30 years.

As fresh in this Auckland Theatre Company production as if it were brand new, the stylish, inspired direction of Raymond Hawthorne gives the work a polished, almost delirious pace and tone certain to please even the most demanding of Stoppard devotees, while providing a rare treat for everyone else.

Lenin (Paul Gittins), James Joyce (Michael Hurst), and Dada progenitor Tristan Tzara (Ross Girven), three of the last century's most seminal figures, have little in common but genius and a coincidence of war that brought them all briefly to Zurich, circa 1917.

Stoppard starts there and goes on to explore the relationship collision, actually between the leaden demands of politics and two of the most important theories of 20th-century art, by fabricating co-location sites - a library and a drawing room - in which the protagonists and their dazzling women dance, fight, postulate, foment, proclaim, win, lose and play to farcically electric effect in a cauldron of language and ideas that owes as much to the limerick as to Hegelian dialectics.

All this is laid on through the senile recollections of Henry Carr, a real, albeit excruciatingly incidental figure in history, immortalised as a drunken soldier in Joyce's Ulysses, who alternates between being an uber-narrator fond of digression and an active foil obsessed with clothing. Carr's memory and life are pivotal, and Michael Edward carries the complex role with a terrific, over-the-top, rapid-fire flair.

Stoppard often uses the work of others as underpinning. Here, the structural latticework comes both directly and obliquely from the protagonists themselves, but also, delightfully, from Oscar Wilde.

Among the many enriching Wildean flourishes are an insouciant Gwendolen (Sophia Hawthorne) and a wickedly witty, pulchritudinous Cecily (Anna Meech), as well as Bennett (Ross Duncan), the revolutionary, laconic butler.

As a play of ideas, Travesties is enormously accessible but dense enough to merit several viewings.


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