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Sunday Star-Times Review 21 July 2002


Travesties a Fine Night Out

TRAVESTIES:   By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Raymond Hawthorne, Auckland Theatre Company, Maidment Theatre until August 17
Reviewer:  Gilbert Wong

The playwright Tom Stoppard is as famously perverse as any character he has created.

A Thatcherite and an Amnesty supporter, he voted Tory while openly decrying the Iron Lady's philistinism.  His plays are the same.  There is no clear steer to what we should think, only the vigorous clash of ideas expressed in scintillating language.

That said, Travesties' vintage shows.  Penned in 1973, the collision between the philosophies of communism and art lack the cut and thrust it must have had.

Travesties takes a trivial historical coincidence, the presence of James Joyce, Lenin and the Dada artist Tristan Tzara in 1917 Zurich, and imagines a meeting of competing minds, egos and philosophies.

Our guide is Henry Carr, a hapless British consular official, who also happens to be a minor character from Joyce's Ulysses.  The novelist asks Carr to play Algernon in a production of The Importance of Being Ernest he is managing for the local theatre.  There is a lawsuit over the fee paid.  While the material about Joyce and Carr did occur, the rest is make-believe.

There are well-known names in this cast, seasoned actors at their peak.  As Joyce, Michael Hurst is wry and comic, Paul Gittins as Lenin is all historic stature, while Ross Girven makes an hilarious absurdist Tzara.

However, newcomer Michael Edward is a standout as the twittish Carr, along with Sophia Hawthorne as Carr's sister Gwendolen and Nancy Schroder as Lenin's associate Nadya--perhaps because they bring much needed comic relief in the headlong torrent of ideas.

This is a top flight cast and they need to be to carry Stoppard's lightning fast and intensely cerebral wordplay.  A fine night out, but make sure you're alert before you take your seat.


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