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Travesties

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

Who would be a bit-part player in some of history’s most seismic events? Stand up Henry Carr, a real-life British consulate official minding the shop in Zurich circa 1917 in Tom Stoppard’s audacious play, revived here by Richard Baron in a suitably wild production. With novelist James Joyce, Dadaist Tristan Tzara and Russian revolutionary VI Lenin in residence, everything goes cuckoo in what is effectively Henry’s unreliable memoir. As he gives himself a starring role, such myth-making liberates Stoppard to run riot with a dramatic cut-up of form, ideas and a series of routines that interrogate art and revolution as seeming polar opposites that turn out to be two sides of the same coin.

In a Zurich that is a diplomatic no man’s land which becomes a capital of culture caught in the crossfire of several intellectual uprisings, Mark Elstob’s Henry dreams himself as a dandyish hero of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. In actual fact, he is a crusty little Englander abroad, whose stance against both art and foreigners gives him the air of a latter-day Brexiteer. Either way, Elstob plays him with a delicious archness that infects all about him, making a song and dance of Stoppard’s still pertinent debate concerning the respective merits of socially aware constructions and art for art’s sake in a way that heightens things to the max.

There is fine support from Graham Mackay-Bruce as Tzara and Alex Scott Fairley, but it’s Carl Patrick’s insurgent butler Bennett you have to keep an eye on in a big play of ideas that wears the pop cultural trappings of a fringe show. In a mash-up of Tzara and Joyce, it leaves you saying yes, da, and indeed da once more.

The Herald, June 29th 2018

ends

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