It’s 1917. We are in the public library in Zurich, where – amazingly – Lenin, James Joyce and the Dadaist ‘artist’ Tristan Tzara all find themselves at the same time. A minor British consular official, Henry Carr, remembers this, years later, principally because Joyce invited him to act in an amateur production of The Importance of Being Earnest and relations between them had soured.
This is the factual foundation on which Stoppard has built an elaborate and often beautiful fantasy in which these characters weave themselves into a parody of Wilde’s masterpiece. It is hard to keep track of the welter of references and jokes as Carr slips from old age back into his youth, and from fact into fantasy, but Colin Macnee’s unobtrusive direction serves us well. The simple setting in this smart new theatre (in whose intimacy some of the actors over-project a little) and the detail in the costumes and sound effects make a complex concept pretty clear, and the strong cast do justice to the material.
Alistair Nunn is better with Carr’s dialogues than with his lengthy monologues, but he handles a huge part with some relish. Peter Green offers an extraordinary lookalike for Lenin, complete with every one of his billboard gestures, and Craig Finlay and Tim Bearder as Joyce and Tzara convince entirely. But the best moment, for me, is the Mr Gallagher and Mr Shean parody, perfectly delivered by Fleur Yerbury-Hodgson’s Cecily and Monica Nash’s Gwendolen – delightful!
- Andrew Whiffin
Oxford Theatre Guild at the Simkins Lee Theatre, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford