02 March 2017
Larger than life
Scripts based on unlikely real-life encounters have become a flourishing genre. Plays have imagined conversations between Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe, Mother Teresa and Robert Maxwell, and the real-life models for Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.
A pioneer of these historical-coincidence pieces was Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (1974), inspired by the discovery that, in Zurich in 1917, two exiles – James Joyce and Lenin – were respectively plotting Ulysses and the Russian Revolution. Living near them was another radical, the artist Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of the extreme-modernist art movement, Dadaism.
While plays kicking off from such a cultural footnote have been research based, Stoppard’s is mischief driven. Because some facts are unavailable or dates do not match, he locates the action in the trick-playing memory of Henry Carr, a minor British consular official, although, remarkably, even this non-famous name is a real one.
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