This page is part of an older version of the Guild web site and links
may not be current. Please click here to visit the new site.

Coming nextů
the next show next audition
home news current reviews previous productions theatre links
OTG's production of Travesties was performed at the Simpkins Lee Theatre in Lady Margaret Hall in December 2010. Reviews appeared in Oxford Times, Daily Information, What's On Stage and Oxford Prospect.
picture from the performance

He's a dedicated follower of fashion dontcha kneow...

A gallery of pictures from the production is available here.

OXFORD TIMES - Nicola Lisle

You don’t have to be familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest to enjoy Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, but it definitely helps — you will ‘get’ more of the jokes, and enjoy the way Wilde’s text is seamlessly juxtaposed with Stoppard’s. In the OTG’s production, at Lady Margaret Hall’s new Simpkins Lee Theatre, this intriguing and imaginative play is exceptionally well handled, the humour and themes brought out with clarity and pizzazz.

Set in Zurich during the First World War, the play concerns James Joyce, Lenin and artist Tristan Tzara, whose lives become increasingly and bizarrely entwined. While writing Ulysses, Joyce puts on a production of The Importance, casting British consular official Henry Carr as Algernon. It ends badly when Carr sues Joyce for the cost of a pair of trousers, and Joyce counter-sues for slander and the cost of tickets. Meanwhile, Lenin plots revolution and Tzara tries to promote the absurdist art movement of Dadaism. Stoppard takes these real events and combines them with a generous helping of poetic licence — with hilarious results.

The play takes the form of a series of reminiscences by an aged Carr, who struggles to recall the exact details, and some of his memories have to be replayed, emerging differently each time. Among an impressive cast, Alistair Nunn stands out in the central role of Henry Carr, cleverly drawing distinctions between the young Carr and the elderly Carr, and speaking with fluency and mastery. Tim Bearder is strongly cast as Tzara, and he sustains his Romanian accent well, while Fleur Yerbury-Hodgson and Monica Nash are appealing as their love interests, Cecily and Gwendolen. But there are no weak links in this cast; everyone plays their part superbly well, breathing fresh life into this witty farce.


DAILY INFORMATION - Emma (Daily Info reviewer)

Travesties starts more or less as it means to go on. As the lights go up we see a library scene, but one even more eccentric than the Bod on a bad day. The year is 1917, and we are in Zurich watching Tzara the Dadaist picking words out of a hat and declaiming them in a strong Romanian accent for no very clear reason. On another table sits the novelist James Joyce dictating in rather comic Irish tones, and just across from him a man and a woman are having an excited conversation in fluent sounding Russian. The man is Lenin (excellently played by Peter Green whose blend of terseness and passion suits the role almost as well as does his beard.) In all it's a little bizarre, fairly funny, and not incredibly easy to grasp what's going on.  

Stoppard, like Wilde, is such a master of quick, playful dialogue and wittily sculpted monologue that by the end I got the impression of having spent three hours in the company of one very clever person rather than witnessing a drama of different characters. But perhaps this was actually apt for the point of the story - after all what we see does depend entirely on the narration of one of the characters - Henry Carr, an official of the British consulate in Zurich who was there at the same time as the more famous characters, and who we see in old age recalling his meetings with them. Alistair Nunn deftly stepped between the role of the aged Carr and his young counterpart and kept his enormously long monologues rolling with energy. In fact the whole cast produced polished performances; Colin Burnie a wonderfully poised and champagne-fond butler and Tim Bearder a Tzara with wide fanatically artistic eyes.

As the play progresses it becomes more and more obvious that Carr's recollections shy away from the truth: his memories are tinted by self importance, geriatric forgetfulness and a tendency to mingle reality with fiction – particularly with Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest which he associates with the events of 1917 because that was when he proudly played in it under Joyce’s direction. The intellectual obstacle course that is the script adds to the scope for confusion, and the whole thing has the feel of an extended joke, which occasionally brushes with seriousness long enough to show a Carr struck with terror by a recollection of his time in the trenches or to hint that perhaps there is a serious point about the nature of art lying beneath the eccentric characters and banter. But, happily I think, the Oxford Theatre Guild latch onto the humour, do it very well, and deliver a highly entertaining evening while obviously enjoying themselves into the bargain.


WHAT'S ON STAGE - Andrew Whiffin

It’s 1917. We are in the public library in Zurich, where – amazingly – Lenin, James Joyce and the Dadaist ‘artist’ Tristan Tzara all find themselves at the same time. A minor British consular official, Henry Carr, remembers this, years later, principally because Joyce invited him to act in an amateur production of The Importance of Being Earnest and relations between them had soured.

This is the factual foundation on which Stoppard has built an elaborate and often beautiful fantasy in which these characters weave themselves into a parody of Wilde’s masterpiece. It is hard to keep track of the welter of references and jokes as Carr slips from old age back into his youth, and from fact into fantasy, but Colin Macnee’s unobtrusive direction serves us well. The simple setting in this smart new theatre (in whose intimacy some of the actors over-project a little) and the detail in the costumes and sound effects make a complex concept pretty clear, and the strong cast do justice to the material.

Alistair Nunn is better with Carr’s dialogues than with his lengthy monologues, but he handles a huge part with some relish. Peter Green offers an extraordinary lookalike for Lenin, complete with every one of his billboard gestures, and Craig Finlay and Tim Bearder as Joyce and Tzara convince entirely. But the best moment, for me, is the Mr Gallagher and Mr Shean parody, perfectly delivered by Fleur Yerbury-Hodgson’s Cecily and Monica Nash’s Gwendolen – delightful!



Whatever else you are doing between now and next Saturday, drop it and ring Ox. 305305 immediately to book for TRAVESTIES at the Simkins Lee Theatre at Lady Margaret Hall. This hilarious show is unmissable and the funniest thing you will see all Christmas season.

Stoppard’s play, written in 1974, has been called surrealist, an example of Theatre of the Absurd, and a "philosophical farce". This is sophisticated humour, full of paradox and scintillating wit alongside doggerel verse and bits of utterly silliness. If we wish, we can see it as a serious exploration of the difficulty of making sense of life and creating a synthesis of its disparate elements. Stoppard stumbled on the fact that James Joyce, Tristran Tzara and Lenin were all in Zurich around the same time in 1917, and that Joyce had been involved in putting on a production of Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” in the middle of the hideous carnage of the First World War. This had led to him being sued by a minor consulate official, Henry Carr, for the cost of a pair of trousers used in the production.

From that combination of the bizarre and the banal, Stoppard weaves a fantasy in which Carr meets all three of these political and artistic revolutionaries in Zurich and gets thoroughly mixed up with them and his own unreliable memories of what took place. Could Lenin, while planning the Russian Revolution, have bumped into Joyce, writing his masterpiece Ulysses, at the Zurich public library? Could Tzara, the rebellious exponent of Dadaism, and Carr, a stock conventional type, have played Algernon and Jack and been rivals for the same young lady? What is the purpose and justification of art in a world of war and revolution? Stoppard takes these themes and develops them mischievously like a composer weaving a fugue, using a medley of different accents and parodic styles. It is masterly and it is very entertaining.

This production by the Oxford Theatre Guild has a very strong cast, led by Alastair Nunn in the hugely demanding marathon rôle of Henry Carr. Craig Finlay is a very believable, untidy and badly-dressed James Joyce, and Tim Bearder is an appropriately exaggerated Tzara, enfant terrible of anti-establishment art and lifestyle. Meanwhile, Peter Green makes an amazingly convincing Lenin. He is almost uncanny and is very well-supported by Laura Kurovska as his wife Nadezhda. Fleur Yerbury-Hodgson as Cecily and Monica Hash as Gwendolen give polished and stylish performances.

Everything about this production is good and it makes a wonderful inaugural show for the newly-built Simpkins Lee Theatre in Lady Margaret Hall. The theatre is plush and comfortable, well-heated and raked so that everybody can see and hear. Altogether this is a great night out.

Be there!


guild history
guild history
guild history
guild history guild history
guild history
web archive link
© 2012 Oxford Theatre Guild • Oxford Theatre Guild is a charity registered in England and Wales, charity no 294056