TRAVESTIESat the Apollo Theatre
Ending its transfer run in the Edwardian Louis XIV Apollo, Patrick Marber's slick, stylish revival – which originated in the Menier Chocolate Factory - of Stoppard's 1974 intellectual hit is set in Great War Zurich.
The drama unfolds in the unreliable memory of the ageing Henry Carr, a minor official in the British Embassy. He was a real person, and he did live in Switzerland at, more or less, the same time as Lenin, Joyce and Tzara, the three unlikely contemporaries.
“Through the courts with James Joyce” is one possible title for Carr's memoirs, and Tim Hatley's impressive set is as much a court-room as it is a public library. The forestage is strewn with discarded pages. RUHE BITTE hangs as an admonition over the action, replaced in Act Two by SILENCE.
“It may be nonsense, but at least it's clever nonsense.” Just about sums it up. As an audience, we picked up well on the often obscure literary, political and philosophical references [though the “yes/nos of yesteryear” fell on stony ground]. And we could all enjoy the music – Mr Dooley, with Forbes Masson's Lenin on the lute, and the afternoon tea duet, with Peter McDonald's Joyce on guitar.
All the actors give excellent performances: Freddie Fox is a flamboyant, egotistical Dadaist, while Clare Foster shines as the librarian Cecily, giving a virtuosic simultaneous translation of the Russian of Mr and Mrs Lenin, and sparring in a Wildean war of words with Gwendolen [Amy Morgan]. And Tom Hollander makes a wonderfully engaging Carr, wandering on, rambling on in a battered boater like the older Betjeman. And, in the twinkling of an eye, the years fall away and he's the fashionable dandy, obsessed with the sartorial. A memorable performance, which almost, but not quite, drove John Wood's definitive Carr from my mind.