Travesties is a comedic play by Tom Stoppard, first produced at the Aldwych Theatre, London, on June 10, 1974, in a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The play was directed by Peter Wood and designed by Carl Toms, with lighting by Robert Ornbo. It closed March 13, 1976 after 156 performances at the Aldwych then the Albery Theatres in London and the Ethel Barrymore Theater, New York, USA.
An important revival with revised text, greatly shortening Cecily's Act II lecture on Lenin, was given by the Royal Shakespeare Company at its theatre in the Barbican Arts Centre in September 1993, directed by Adrian Noble. The production transferred to the Savoy Theatre in March 1994 and ran there until June 1994.
Plot and Structure
The play's setting is primarily Zurich during World War I. Three important 20th-century personalities were living in Zurich at that time: the modernist author James Joyce, the communist revolutionary Lenin, and the Dadaist founder Tristan Tzara. The less notable English consular official Henry Carr, who is likewise a real person and was similarly in Zurich, years later recalls his perceptions and his experiences with these influential figures. As he reminisces, Carr's now geriatric 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 Zurich 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. Travesties' characters also includes versions of two of Earnest's: Gwendolen and Cecily and the comedic situations of many of the other roles are shared by other characters.
Stoppard uses many intellectual and theatrical devices within the play, including puns, limericks, and even a vaudeville song.
Historically, 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. According to Stoppard, this piece of historical trivia was the spark which catalyzed the ideas behind the rest of the show. Although quite a few historical inaccuracies are present throughout the production, these can be seen as mistakes (purposeful and accidental) from Carr's addled mind.
During the run the following cast changes were made: