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Tom Stoppard's Travesties, Menier Chocolate Factory - great acting, not sure about the play

TravestiesREVIEW Tom Hollander's Henry Carr has just shuffled onto the stage. 'Oh it's him!' says the old lady sat behind me loudly, so loudly he could probably hear her from the other side of the stage. I stifle a laugh.

This is a play of Henry Carr's reminiscences from his stint at the British consular in Zurich during the first world war. Zurich has become a magnet for artists and political exiles and his acquaintances include James Joyce (Peter McDonald), Tristan Tzara (Freddie Fox) - one of the founders of Dadaism - and Lenin (Forbes Mason) but, as his forgetfulness suggests, his recollections may not be accurate. While Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia explores maths and science, here he explores art, war and revolution.

There is a farcical love story of sorts. Tzara fancies Henry's sister Gwendolene (Amy Morgan) but she doesn't like his radical, anarchic art movement so he's pretending to be Jack, a less radical fictional brother of Tzara's. Meanwhile, Henry fancies Cecily (Clare Foster) a librarian who is helping Lenin with research for a book. All the while James Joyce admires Lenin from afar and is trying to manage a production of The Importance of Being Earnest in which Henry will take a leading role.

Travesties is performed with such energy and verve, the delivery gunfire quick and clipped it is a skill in its own right. The performances I enjoyed very much, particularly Freddie Fox who was on fine form but I have a problem with the play. It's not the first time I've had this problem with a Tom Stoppard play in fact I'm starting to think Stoppard and me just don't get on.

Poly says he's not afraid of exploring a topic and that is true but I think it is at the expense of narrative and drama. Stoppard is obviously extremely knowledgeable and a talented writer but it feels like he is writing for a narrow audience, an audience who shares a great deal of the same knowledge he has. The cleverness and wit often only works if you are in on the joke, if you know the points of reference. As I was watching I felt like I should have done some prep, some homework on central historical characters.

When you do get a line it is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, it is brilliant and you bask in the cleverness but there was a little too much cloud, for me at least.  What I was left with is a lot of posh characters talking very fast and eating cucumber sandwiches albeit very well acted posh characters talking very fast and eating cucumber sandwiches.

I've had similar problems with Arcadia and his new one The Hard Problem. Really liked the one production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead I saw though and I'm holding out hope that Rock 'n Roll will be another of his I like if it ever gets revived.

So I'm going to give Travesties five stars for the acting because that was the joy in watching and two stars for the play itself because it just didn't engage me. It is two and a half hours long with an interval and runs at the Menier until 19 November.