Memory is a device championed by writers of various forms of literature to allow character and situations to be explored within a subconscious reality that can stray from the path or realism and formality create an effective tapestry for narrative and thematic development. As the West End last week welcomed one of the greatest memory plays in the form of Williams' The Glass Menagerie so it now welcomes this delightfully British and effortlessly quickly 'miss-memory' play that's both free and loose with its form and structure to allow a collage like experience that can occasionally leave you confused, but thanks to this fine production it's easy to delight in that confusion.
Sense it seems can be overrated, and those grappling too hard for a clear narrative or stable dramaturgy may be disappointed. Henry Carr is a British diplomat living in Zurich during the First World War, at a time when the city itself was a wash of intriguing creative personalities, many of which become muddled in his mind. Stoppard's skill at mixing weighty debate with farcical comedy ensures that whilst the mind may indeed wander it is never allowed to switch off, and under Marber's tightly focused and swiftly paced production there is much to admire aside from the textual debate that mixes discourse on Dada with Joycean wit.
At times it resonates too loudly in its own liberal echo chamber to prove truly probing or significant, but as the philosophy debates the role of art and commerce, ultimately asking about arts position as a revolutionary tool it revels in its own intellectualism but always keeps the humour firmly at the forefront. There is great delight in the parallels with Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest which has been transposed, reconfigured and recreated within Carr's mind and played out alongside his cocktail of historical memory. Scenes, characters and epigrams find their way into Stoppard's text offering some method in the madness that's at least recognisable as a dramatic structure alongside the mix of characters and mouthpieces. Played on a tremendous set by Tim Hatley we're offered a visual window into Carr's mind with a space that effortlessly morphs from location to location whilst maintaining the misremembered haze in which the action plays out.
The text is kept alive primarily by the uniformly fine set of performances led by the uncompromising and determined Tom Hollander who gets the audience immediately on side with the slightest glimpse of a smile and flash in his eye. It's this inimitable charm that forgives the piece it's apparent lack of sense; under his command we remain convinced and compelled that each vision and memory is real and thoroughly complete. The ever charming Clare Foster shines as librarian Cecily alongside an enchanting turn from Amy Morgan who together offer a highlight of the second act in a sprechgesang version of Wilde's garden scene that is finely performed and cleverly directed.
Equal part bonkers and fabulous it's like a Rubik's cube for the mind - with each turn you find yourself closer to the solution yet further away from the centre, and that's the joy of Stoppard's idiosyncrasy. Like all our memories it offers an idealistic view of the most positive moments of our life blended with what might have been and what we wish were true. Sometimes a little smug and pleased with its own sense of enigma, the desired effect becomes a difficult puzzle that more than warrants the effort of attempting to solve.
Travesties tickets are now on sale.
What the Press Said...
"This champagne revival of Tom Stoppard's intellectual farce deserves to be a West End hit."
Clare Allfree for The Telegraph
"Tom Hollander has never been better in this effervescent delight."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press