Apollo Theatre, London
One doesn’t frequent the theatre as much as one ought, nor will one in future if the theatre continues to stiff one for eighty-three notes plus a £1.75 ‘Restoration Contribution” for a seat in Row B of the Circle. In an odd way it’s the smaller amount which hurts you more – having recovered from the mugging at the Box Office, you find yourself reeling all over again at their temerity in coming back to you with hand outstretched for a levy to fund the polishing of the proscenium or the re-sticking of the stucco. Such costs, you might think, would be intrinsic to the gross figure previously presented, but not so. Throw in train tickets, a couple of Shaftesbury Avenue burgers and half a bottle of claggy Malbec each, and the chiz household is well on its way to £250 in the hole for the privilege of sitting side-by-side in silence in the dark all evening, something we normally expect to get for free at home. A modest mortgage renegotiation at half time scores us two thimbles of Haagen Daas, the ice cream equivalent of a Farrow and Ball testing pot; it’s overpriced, pretentious and tasteless, and under no circumstances should you get any of it near your mouth.
Still clutching the ticket stub that is worth considerably more than its weight in gold, and muttering darkly that we could get three hours of Springsteen at Wembley for this, I settle down for three hours of Tom Hollander (the thinking woman’s Tom Hiddlestone) telling tales of Lenin, Joyce and Dada. Five minutes after that I remember why I fell in love with Stoppard when I was a teenage English Lit student. He makes you feel clever without having to do the reading. Thirty five years ago I was dazzled by his erudition and laughed at jokes I didn’t quite get, believing that one day I would do the required learning to laugh for real. Coming back to it now I realise I never did catch up with Tom’s intellect, never really tried actually, and the jokes I got first time round aren’t that clever at all. They’re rough puns and slapstick, scattered like treats for the kids among the darker allusions. Like Shakespeare before him and Sorkin after, you think yourself lucky if you digest a third of the words, yet you somehow feel you’ve absorbed all of the meaning. It’s lovely to listen to, either way. Even the words you don’t catch sound beautiful as they fly by.
People who like to suddenly go ‘Ha!’ in an otherwise silent auditorium, to demonstrate that they’ve got some obscure reference or terribly clever joke that the rest of us have missed. I tried a few throaty chuckles at random moments and got jealous sideways looks from people around me who didn’t know whether I was tremendously academic or chonically bronchial.
It made me think..
Travesties is over 40 years old but the language still sparkles and if there’s pretention in it I think it’s in us, the audience, not the writer. Stoppard pulled the worst trick of all on me, all those years ago – he simultaneously made me want to write like him, and convinced me that I couldn’t.