|Written by||Tom Stoppard|
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
|Date premiered||10 June 1974|
|Place premiered||Aldwych Theatre
|Subject||An extravaganza of political history, literary pastiche, and Wildean parody, introducing Dadaist Tristan Tzara and Lenin his wife|
|Setting||Zürich, Switzerland, 1917|
Travesties is a play by Tom Stoppard.
The play 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's setting is primarily Zürich, Switzerland during the First World War. Three important personalities were living in Zürich at that time: the modernist author James Joyce, the communist revolutionary Lenin, and the founder of Dada, Tristan Tzara. In the play the less notable English consular official Henry Carr, who is likewise a real person and was similarly in Zürich, recalls his perceptions and his 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 from Earnest, Gwendolen and Cecily, and the comedic situations of many of the other roles are shared by other characters. Stoppard uses many theatrical 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 the real Henry Carr's widow, expressing her surprise that her late husband had found himself imagined 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, the Albery Theatres in London and the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York City.
- Henry Carr – John Wood
- Tristan Tzara – John Hurt
- James Joyce – Tom Bell
- Vladimir Lenin – Frank Windsor
- Bennett – John Bott
- Gwendolen – Maria Aitken
- Cecily – Beth Morris
- Nadya – Barbara Leigh-Hunt
- Cast changes
- Tristan Tzara: Robert Powell; Tim Curry
- James Joyce: John Quentin; James Booth
- Vladimir Lenin: Harry Towb
- Gwendolen: Meg Wynn Owen
- Nadya: Frances Cuka
A revival of the play, with a revised text greatly shortening Cecily's lecture on Lenin in Act II, 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.
- Henry Carr – Antony Sher
- Tristan Tzara – David Westhead
- James Joyce – Lloyd Hutchinson
- Vladimir Lenin – Geoffrey Freshwater
- Bennett – Trevor Martin
- Gwendolen Carr – Rebecca Saire
- Cecily Carruthers – Amanda Harris
- Nadya – Darlene Johnson
Awards and nominations
- 1976 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play
- 1976 Tony Award for Best Play
- 1976 Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy
- Stoppard's correspondence with Mrs. Carr is now in the Stoppard Archive at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin. See summary of the Stoppard papers at: http://research.hrc.utexas.edu:8080/hrcxtf/view?docId=ead/00179.xml
- Michael Berry (9 November 1997). "Travesties". Michael Berry's Web Pages. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
- Sam Beckett (8 January 2007). "Travesties at Seattle Public Theater". Seattle Public Theater. Retrieved 2008-06-19.