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Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Assn. Volume 40 Number 2. Feb 7 1977

Drama Notes — Travesties at Downstage?

page 12

Drama Notes

Travesties at Downstage?


"Music is corrupted, language conscripted. Words are taken to stand for opposite facts, opposite ideas. That is why anti-art is the art of our time".

These words the Dadaist Tzara uses in Travesties to describe what happens to a country in wartime. They might equally be used to describe what happens in Anthony Taylor's production at Downstage of this latest play by Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Jumpers, The Real Inspector Hound etc). Mr Taylor (no, not Taylor, the other one) employs his entire arsenal of effects ranging from brilliant artistry to outrageously corny tricks in order to catch every semblance of serious thought in a compromising position.

Currently playing:
  • Travesties by Tom Stoppard, at Downstage, until April 2nd. Directed by Anthony Taylor. (see review this page).
  • Seascape by Edward Albee, at Circa, until March 19. Directed by Russell Aitken (ibid.)
  • Time for Lovers, a circa lunchtime production directed by Anne Flannery. March 8-11, 12—10 pm and 1—10pm.
  • The Tempest, Shakespeare at Unity until March 26.

A play which boasts characters of James Joyce, Lenin, and Tzara seems a formidable night's entertainment. And yet it is not, for Travesties does not parade intellectual giants for the admiration of the audience but is more concerned with catching them with their philosophical pants down. Absurd? Precisely. Because Stoppard has chosen to retell the story of the simultaneous presence of the above three in Zurich during the "Great War", through the eyes of a minor British consular official, one Henry Carr. Or rather through the erratic and distorting memory of Carr many years later, which re-clothes the three victims of his retrospective meglomania in harlequin's garb. Travesties.

In Carr's reconstruction of Zurich, Lenin and Joyce are rendered as ridiculous as the Dadaism of Tzara. And Anthony Taylor is not slow to take Stoppard's cue. His improvisations on the script have, amoungst other travesties, Lenin and his wife doing a song and dance routine en route to Russia to join the Revolution; one of Lenin's more famous speaches delivered movingly — to background music of one of bloody Rod Stewart's more famous banalities (and incidentally, was Mr Taylor also responsible for the selection of that ghastly Abba record for the pre and post-play auditorium music?) and have Cecily the Librarian incant Lenin's words whilst performing a striptease. In brief, Mr Taylor hurt my sensitive leftist tendencies, for which I shall never forgive him.

Taylor? — Or the other one, Stoppard? "The odd thing about revolution is that the further left you go politically, the more bourgeois the art" declares Tzara again. Equally one might state the converse — the more bourgeois the art the further left are its political implications. Downstage's production of Travesties positively reeks of bourgeois art, in its indulgence in travesties, in ridicule and disguise, in its constant negation of the seriousness of life which is the stuff of the Revolution. A negation which, as the evening goes by, becomes all pervading and consumes even itself in a dramatic anarchism which knows no exceptions to its ridicule, least of all bourgeois art. Travesties. Travesties of the categories by which the very definition of bourgeois art is possible. And also, damn the nerve, of the categories by which one might criticise the production.

For a production which ultimately leans heavily on the expression of Dada, the performance of Lloyd Scott as Tzara is regretably weak — as much as the production may cleverly seek to justify a deliberate interpretation of Tzara as an ineffectual character. Alongside the immense and admirable competence of Stuart Devenie as Carr and to a lesser extent of Colin McColl as Joyce, the somewhat amateurish performance by Mr Scott was disappointing and undermined the total expression of the play by weakening the effectiveness of the inter-action of the characters.

My only other doubt as to the effectiveness of the production is whether Mr Taylor has been over-zealous in his direction. If the production errs, it is on the side of being too entertaining. To employ a topical idiom, if the end be the political implications of an absurd entertainment (which I take to be the means) I suspect we may have at Downstage a case of means taken as ends. Not Ends, the other one. Tzara does say "a man may be an artist by exhibiting his hindquarters". Quite so. As Cecily susinctly puts it: "and up yours!".

-Allan Smith

(Next issue of Salient Drama notes will feature an interview with Anthony Taylor about Travesties).