“It’s such a good idea, you can never live up to it”
– Tom Stoppard on writing Travesties.
Quote from p58 of Tom Stoppard: The Moral Vision of the Major Plays by P. Delany
Travesties [TICKETS]- currently in previews on Broadway (opening 24 April 2018) after transferring from London – underwent quite a change while being written after one of Tom Stoppard’s friends pointed him in the direction of a rather unlikely coincidence, which was that in Zurich in 1916/1917 –
“…within a stone’s throw of each other and using the same café were the Dadaist Tristan Tzara, and Lenin, and I think Freud, maybe. Look into it.”
“But when Stoppard looked into his friend’s suggestion and the third luminary turned out to be not Freud but James Joyce, he began to give his play a more positive lilt – or, perhaps, brogue. ‘It’s such a good idea’, Stoppard exulted while still revising his script, ‘you can mever live up to it’.” ibid. p59
Whie in Zurich Joyce had directed a production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest‘ in which a “minor British consular official named Henry Carr had appeared”. The two men fell out spectacularly: Carr sued Joyce for the cost of trousers he bought for use in the play, Joyce countersued for the cost of unsold tickets and later gave Carr an unsympathetic cameo in Ulysses.
Henry Carr was a real person and his own story came to light after Travesties opened for the first time, in 1974 in London. Stoppard received a letter from Carr’s wife expressing her surprise at seeing him feature in the play. Carr died in 1962, but had been injured in the first world war and taken to Switzerland for recovery.
You can read about the real Henry Carr in Peter Chrisp’s article Travesties: the Henry Carr trouser saga and George Simmers’ Great War Fiction blog on Henry Carr, and the history behind ‘Travesties’ which includes a link Henry Carr’s war / medical record (now digitised and public).
Chrisp’s article adds that “Stoppard perceptively noticed that Joyce, though a dandy like Carr in many ways, made up his own rules about how to dress” and backs this up with a few photos of Joyce who is indeed wearing mismatched trousers and jackets…
“Carr may have regretted his spat with Joyce but it earned him a cameo in the greatest novel of the 20th Century, and a leading role in a play by one of the great playwrights of our times. Not bad for an amateur actor.”
Source: Taking liberties with the story of Joyce’s own Great War in Zurich (2012) Independent.ie
Henry Carr is played by Tom Hollander and James Joyce by Peter McDonald who both played their characters in the two London runs of Travesties before the play transferred to Broadway under the direction of Patrick Marber (who also directed it in London). The play runs until 17 June 2018.
Many more tweets from people enjoying Travesties collected in this Twitter Moment below…