Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
|10 June 1974
|An extravaganza of political history, literary pastiche, and Wildean parody, introducing Dadaist Tristan Tzara, and Lenin and his wife
|Zürich, Switzerland, 1917
Travesties is a 1974 play by Tom Stoppard. It centres on the figure of Henry Carr, an elderly man who reminisces about Zürich in 1917 during the First World War, and his interactions with James Joyce when he was writing Ulysses, Tristan Tzara during the rise of Dada, and Lenin leading up to the Russian Revolution, all of whom were living in Zürich at that time.
The play is primarily set in Zürich, Switzerland during the First World War. At that time, three important personalities were living in Zürich: the modernist author James Joyce, the communist revolutionary Lenin, and Dada founder Tristan Tzara. The play centres on the less notable Henry Carr, a British consular official (also mentioned in Joyce's novel Ulysses), as he recalls his perceptions and experiences with these influential figures. As he reminisces, Carr's memory becomes prone to distraction, and instead of predictable historical biography, these characters are interpreted through the maze of his mind.
Carr's memories are couched in a Zürich production of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest in which he had a starring role. Stoppard uses this production and Carr's mixed feelings surrounding it as a framework to explore art, the war and revolution. Situations from Earnest feature prominently within the action. The characters in Travesties also include versions of two characters from Earnest, Gwendolen and Cecily, and the comedic situations of many of the other roles are shared by other characters. Stoppard uses many linguistic devices within the play, including puns, limericks, and an extended parody of the vaudeville song "Mister Gallagher and Mister Shean".
The real Carr did play Algernon with a group of actors called The English Players, for whom the real James Joyce was the business manager. Carr and Joyce had an angry disagreement after the play, which led to legal action and accusations of slander by Joyce. The dispute was settled with the judge deciding in favour of both disputants on different counts. Joyce later parodied Carr, and the English Consul General in Zürich at that time, A. Percy Bennett, as two minor characters in Ulysses, with Carr being portrayed as a drunken, obscene soldier in the "Circe" episode.
After the first performance of Travesties Stoppard received a letter from Henry Carr's widow, expressing her surprise that her late husband had been included as a character in Stoppard's play.
Travesties was first produced at the Aldwych Theatre, London, on 10 June 1974, by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The production was directed by Peter Wood and designed by Carl Toms, with lighting by Robert Ornbo. It closed on 13 March 1976 after 156 performances at the Aldwych and the Albery Theatres in London, and the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York City.
Travesties was subsequently produced by the Boston University School of Theater Arts.[when?]
A German version was directed for TV by Hans Lietzau, and de:Hans W. Reichel in 1978 with Martin Benrath, Nikolaus Paryla, and de:Klaus Guth.
A revival of the play, with a revised text which abbreviated Cecily's lecture on Lenin in Act II by moving much of it to the interval, was given by the Royal Shakespeare Company at its theatre in the Barbican Arts Centre in September 1993, directed by Adrian Noble. The production was transferred to the Savoy Theatre in March 1994 and ran there until June 1994. A reading was given at the British Library in February 2008, featuring John Hurt.
A new revival, directed by Patrick Marber, was performed at the Menier Chocolate Factory from September until November 2016. The production "broke box office records at the Menier Chocolate Factory, becoming the first play in the company’s history to sell out ahead of its first preview". In February 2017 the play, and company, transferred to the Apollo Theatre in London, where the run continued until April 2017.
The production's designer was Tim Hatley, the lighting designer Neil Austin, and Adam Cork was the sound designer and composer of original music.
Patrick Marber's revival transferred to Broadway in Spring 2018, with Tom Hollander reprising his role as Henry Carr and Peter McDonald reprising his as James Joyce. Travesties opened on 24 April 2018 at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theater in New York.
The Roundabout Theatre Company's education team have produced an 'Upstage' guide to Travesties which puts the play's themes in historical context and contains interviews with the director, cast, and crew. The revival has been praised by critics with Ben Brantley of The New York Times commenting that he "...would venture that this latest incarnation is the clearest and surely one of the liveliest on record. It should prove ridiculously entertaining for anyone with even a passing knowledge of its central characters, and a stroll through the groves of Wikipedia should offer adequate preparation for anyone else."
The Australian premiere of the 2016 script adaptation opened in Melbourne in Winter 2019, with Dion Mills taking the role of Henry Carr. The production was directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean.