Travesties: anything could happen

Alex Colville playing Henry Carr, in rehearsals for 'Travesties'.
playing Henry Carr, in rehearsals for ‘Travesties’.

talks to the cast and crew of Lion Theatre Company’s upcoming production of ‘Travesties’.

After the rather emotionally draining offerings of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Sarah Kane’s Blasted at The Assembly Rooms Theatre for the past two weeks, Lion Theatre Company (LTC) are ready to bring high spirits back to the theatre with full force. Their offering is Tom Stoppard’s Travesties.

From a first glance, and several snapshots from the play, it’s a little difficult to figure out precisely what it’s all about. Lily James, the assistant director, succinctly explains it as “a revisionist history of Zurich during the First World War. It’s a series of imagined meetings of people.” Alex Colville, playing Henry Carr, adds very eloquently that Travesties is a “tour de force of modernist culture. The old world on the brink of modernism”.

‘The Limerick Scene’ is one of the most enchantingly bizarre things I have ever witnessed

Succinct and apt as these explanations are, my favourite has to come from who is playing Nadya. “It’s Tom Stoppard’s answer to the question, ‘If you could invite any three people to a dinner party, who would you invite?’” The answer is James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Lenin. Quite a dinner party, I would imagine.

LTC are keen to prove me right. Watching the ‘The Limerick Scene’ is one of the most enchantingly bizarre things I have ever witnessed. I’m not even sure I knew exactly what was really going on, but the energy in the scene was absolutely electric.

The cast concur that rehearsals have also been rather unconventional. Annie Davison, playing Gwendolen, emphasises that there are “so many different levels” to Travesties. “You arrive at rehearsals and Anna will be like, ‘you’re doing a waltz’. Because the play is so naturalistic at parts and then so farcical, you could end up doing anything.” Rohan Perumatantri, playing Tristan Tzara, agrees. “You’re never quite sure what you’re going to be doing at the next rehearsal, whether you’re going to be jumping over chairs or dancing.”

Alex Colville (Henry Carr), John Halstead (Bennett) and Rohan Perumatantri (Tristan Tzara).
Alex Colville (Henry Carr), John Halstead (Bennett) and Rohan Perumatantri (Tristan Tzara) in rehearsals for ‘Travesties’.

Directing and performing in a Stoppard play is certainly no easy feat. Colville’s character Henry Carr probably has some of the most challenging lines in the script. “It is a Stoppard so that means it’s not going to be just normal speech; it means there’s going to be a lot of wordplay and puns involved.”

Anna Jeary, the director, is equally keen to take on the challenge. Following the run of Some Thing New at the Edinburgh fringe this year, a play wrote with Alissa Cooper, Travesties marks the first thing Jeary is directing that she hasn’t written herself. “I was looking forward to taking something someone else had written and putting that onstage, instead of having complete flexibility over what happened in the play.”

Whilst clear in her direction, Jeary credits the talent of the actors for shaping the play as well. “I know the play inside out, so I always have an idea of how it should be said. It’s great when you have a good cast, and they bring something to a line which you had never thought of before.” This is easily seen by the sheer energy the cast emits throughout the rehearsals; their commitment to character is relentless.

I left Travesties’ rehearsal perhaps more dazed than I walked in. Not exhausted, though perhaps a little flustered, but ultimately absolutely dazzled by the feats of the cast and crew. If what I saw was anything to go by, Travesties may prove to be one of the most curiously eccentric things to see this term.

‘Travesties’ will be performing at The Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thu 5 Nov till Sat 7 Nov, 19:30. Book tickets here

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