As Tom Stoppard’s Travesties opens in the West End, its director Patrick Marber has revealed he was first excited by the playwright’s work while at school. At 14, Marber saw a school production of Travesties and revealed in an interview with the Evening Standard this week: “I didn’t understand a word of it, but there was a brilliance and energy I responded to. I became a Stoppard fan instantly. It’s a slightly forgotten play, but dazzling Stoppard brilliance.”
Marber didn’t cross the radar of his hero until 1995 when Stoppard saw Marber’s first play, Dealer’s Choice, and wrote to say he’d loved it.
So when Stoppard offered him the chance to direct Travesties for the Menier Chocolate Factory last year, starring Tom Hollander, Marber, 52, admits he jumped at the chance. “I would never have forgiven myself if I passed up the opportunity to do a Tom Stoppard play with him in the room. Though I was very scared to do it.”
Notwithstanding, Marber says they had “ups and downs” working together. “Tom wasn’t entirely convinced by the production until he saw it with an audience.” However, the morning after Travesties’ press night, Stoppard called and said, “I haven’t had such good reviews for a decade!”
Critics have been particularly generous about the show, supported by Bruno Wang Productions, with the Guardian calling it “an impeccably constructed – or deconstructed – literary romp. A tonic from start to finish” and the Independent praising it as “a first-rate cast perform with terrific pace, zest and dexterity.”
That cast is led by Tom Hollander taking the lead role of real-life English diplomat Henry Carr who spends the First World War in Switzerland. During this time, Carr met James Joyce when he was writing Ulysses, Tristan Tzara during the rise of Dada, and Lenin leading up to the Russian Revolution. All were living in Zürich and his recollections of that time are expressed through the prism of a production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
And one of Travesties’ themes is memory. “That wasn’t apparent to me before, because I was with the younger characters,” says Marber in the Evening Standard. “Now I’m mis-remembering things myself, I am much better equipped to direct it than I would have been 15 years ago.”