I learned three things in Zurich during the war. I wrote them down. Firstly, you're either a revolutionary or you're not, and if you're not you might as well be an artist as anything else. Secondly, if you can't be an artist, you might as well be a revolutionary... I forget the third thing. -- Henry Carr
The first performance of Travesties took place 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.
HENRY CARR -- John Wood
TRISTAN TZARA -- John Hurt
JAMES JOYCE -- Tom Bell
LENIN -- Frank Windsor
BENNETT -- John Bot
GWENDOLEN -- Maria Aitken
CECILY -- Beth Morris
NADYA -- Barbara Leigh-Hunt
SYNOPSISTravesties is a memory play, specifically springing from the often faulty memory of Henry Wilfred Carr, a minor official of the British consul in Zurich, Switzerland. It takes place in two time frames: in 1974, during Carr's dotage, and in 1917, when Carr's life intersected with those of three major modern thinkers: writer James Joyce, artist Tristan Tzara and revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin.
SO WHO THE HELL WAS HENRY CARR?Henry Carr (1894-1962) was also a genuine historical figure, albeit a minor one. According to Stoppard's introduction to the Grove Press edition of Travesties, he was born in Sunderland, England, and at age 17 emigrated to Canada. After World War One broke out, he volunteered for military service and served in France with the Canadian Black Watch. Badly wounded and captured by the enemy, he was sent to Switzerland as an "exchange prisoner."
During his stay in Zurich, Carr was approached by Claud Sykes, a founder of The English Players theatrical company and cast as Algernon Moncrieff in the group's production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Carr apparently acquitted himself well in the role, and even bought himself some trousers, a hat and glove to play Algernon.
Trouble came after the performance, when The English Players' business manager, one James Joyce, handed out the actors' pay. As an amateur, Carr received only 10 francs, and he took offence at the way Joyce delivered the money. Words were exchanged. Carr demanded reimbursement for the costs of the pants, etc., or failing that, a share of the production's profits. Joyce demanded that Carr pay for the five tickets he had sold to friends. The writer also claimed that he was being slandered by Carr.
It took two years and a court of law to sort things out. Joyce won on the money and lost on the slander.He took his final revenge in Ulysses, wherein Carr appears as a drunken, obscene soldier in the "Circe" episode.
After Travesties opened in London, Stoppard received a letter from Henry Carr's widow, Noel, his second wife. He learned that Carr met his first wife, Nora Tulloch, in Zurich, married her in England and moved back with her to Montreal, Canada, where he became company secretary for a department store. He met Noel Bach in 1928 and divorced Nora to marry her in 1933. Henry and Noel moved back to England, where he joined a foundry company. He died of a heart attack in 1962, while on a visit to London.
THE CRITICS SPEAK
"The effect of Travesties...is exhilarating! It is nothing short of miraculous...brilliant and replete with limericks, puns, word play, contradiction and paradoxes." Frank Marcus, The Sunday Telegraph "Stoppard has come up with another dazzling display of theatrical sleight-of-mind that will have London eating out of his hand. The world premiere was an event to excite the intelligence." Herbert Kretzmer, Daily Express
"A dazzling pyrotechnical feat that combines Wildean pastiche, political history, artistic debate, spook-reminiscence, and song-and-dance in marvelously judicious proportion. It radiates sheer intellectual joie de vivre. Exuberant and freewheeling!" Michael Billington, The Guardian
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION
ONLINEThe following sites provide additional insight into the characters and themes of Travesties:
The Marxism/Leninism Project -- Biography, chronology of V.I. Lenin, plus many of his major writings.
Dadaism -- A manifesto by Tzara, translated by Robert Motherwell.
Ulysses for Dummies-- The "Classics Illustrated" version of the classic. A hoot.
The Importance of Being Earnest-- The full text of the play.
Oscariana -- Quotes by and about Mr. Wilde.
The James Joyce Centre -- A celebration of all things Joycean.
OFFLINEIn his acknowledgements from the Grove Press edition of the play, Stoppard lists the following books as invaluable to his research:
Memories of Lenin by Nadezha Krupskaya
Lenin by Michael C. Morgan
Lenin by Robert Payne
Lenin and the Bolsheviks by Adam B. Ulam
To the Finland Station by Edmund Wilson
Days with Lenin by Maxim Gorki
The First World War, an Illustrated History by A.J.P. Taylor
James Joyce by Richard Ellmann
Joyce by John Gross
Dada, Art and Anti-art by Hans Richter
The Dada Painters and Poets edited by Robert Motherwell
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