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Theatre Review: Travesties ****

Joy Watters reviews 'a brain-teasing roller coaster ride for the audience'.

All praise to this year’s ensemble at the theatre in the hills which dives into Stoppard’s maelstrom of a work and hold their heads high as fact and fiction flow round each other and erudition and sheer daftness eddy in the tide of words, words and more words.

One of his earliest plays, premiered in 1974, there is a deal of showmanship in Tom Stoppard’s re-creation of 1917 Zurich and the bringing together of the leading figures in the worlds of politics and the arts, all recalled by a lowly diplomat.

It is a melange of theatrical styles, in a variety of languages, from limericks to song. The starting point is a fact, that Henry Carr, a minor consular official, played Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnestfor the English Players in Zurich. The company business manager was James Joyce and litigation proceeded between the two, still true.

Lenin and Dadaist founder, Tristan Tzara, were also in Zurich at the same time, and Stoppard weaves them into the tale which hilariously takes Wilde’s Earnest as its template. Carr wrongly recalls himself as being at the centre of the artistic and political revolutions.

The key to Richard Baron’s direction is pace as the mad imaginings unfold and the cast scarcely stops for breath. Mark Elstob in his bashed-up entertainer boater shines as Carr, the nonentity who has re-imagined himself as a mover and shaker of the 20thcentury. He also has his quiet moments reflecting on the Great War and its destructive power.

Graham Mackay-Bruce bounces about as the outrageous Tzara, spreading the anti-art gospel with hilarious physicality.

The eight-strong ensemble never loses its grip as the piece roams from fact to fiction creating a brain-teasing roller coaster ride for the audience.

Runs in repertoire until October 10.

Tags: theatre

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