There is no doubt that Travesties is a great play written by a great playwright. It is the perfect example of what Stoppard does so well – taking a series of highly intellectual concepts and boiling them down into an entertaining, yet none the less didactic work of theatre. He takes the theories that we performance students struggle to incorporate into our essays, in this case about the purpose of art and its place in society, and weaves them seamlessly into plays digestible to the theatre-going public. His latest work “Rock ‘n’ Roll” was met last year with mixed reviews, however this play displays Stoppard in his finest hour – as the marketing is so desperate to tell us.
There is also no doubt that the actors who took part in this particular production were of a high quality. Each executed their character to a great standard, with Toby Schmitz’s Tristan Tsara being the standout for me, although this may have been more due to the success of costume designer Julie Lynch. Stoppard’s clever words flowed out of the performers at a great speed, but with great clarity, and at no point did I feel the length of the piece, which is quite significant for a two and half hour show.
The only problem I had was that I couldn’t help but feel that if the same actors had simply been given the text without direction, they would have come up pretty much the same show. I understand that directorial restraint is often a choice made to enhance the beauty of the text itself, perhaps the most striking recent example being the first hour of Benedict Andrews’ “The War Of The Roses”, however I felt that this was not the case with Travesties. I was so sure that the busy set decorated with text from “The Important Of Being Ernest”, and placed on a revolve was desperately trying to convey something, I was just never quite sure what. At times I wondered if the revolve was simply an easy way out of having to incorporate two sets which can easily morph between one another. The exception to this confusion being the arresting moments when “Dada” was projected across the stage as Tsara threw the crockery about.
In the end, it is Tom Stoppard’s name that is on the poster, but it is disappointing that director Richard Cottrell didn’t try and earn a place alongside it. This is perhaps the major difference between the work that I feel impacts greatly on my practice and the shows that I simply enjoy. Between work that is directed and plays that are merely staged.