Mark Elstob - Thark2

Tailor-made for Travesties

“When Michael Palin burst into a scene, screaming ‘NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!’, we didn’t need to know anything about history, did we?”

Mark Elstob will be familiar to many Pitlochry Festival Theatre-lovers, through superb and memorable performances in such productions as Present Laughter, This Happy Breed and Hard times. Richard Baron, directing Travesties for the third time, tells us Mark is tailor-made for orchestrating the madness and mayhem of Travesties. Just like the deft, steering hand of The Monarch Of The Glen’s Narrator-come-Butler, with lots of audience contact, at which Mark is so adroit, he keeps his central character, Henry Carr’s runaway mental train on its track (mostly)!

Ahead of opening on Thursday, 14 June, the third of Mark’s four productions this Season, we caught up with him to ask for some insider information for our audiences:

What can you tell us about your central character?

Henry Carr is an old man who thinks he has a fascinating story to tell. He doesn’t, but that won’t stop him. He was probably a vain and anonymous individual in life, but in his memory, he is bright, energetic, witty and well-connected. It doesn’t help that his memory is like five pounds of apples in a three pound bag.

What’s interesting about bringing this script to life?

Stoppard has packed the script with little jokes and references and bits of wordplay, not to mention different literary and theatrical styles, so all the cast are getting their heads around, say, playing a scene in limericks, or in the style of a music hall double act. I’ve certainly never done a play like it.

What’s your favourite line from Travesties?

The play is packed with great lines, but picking one is hard because context is everything. Here are a just a few:

“What a bloody country even the cheese has got holes in it!” (that’s Switzerland)

“An artist is someone who is gifted in some way that enables him to do something more or less well, which can only be done badly or not at all by someone who is not thus gifted.”

“You are an over-excited little man with a need for self-expression far beyond the scope of your natural gifts.”

“It makes me feel proud of the miracles that human beings can perform.”

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

What surprised all of us was that it was much more accessible than we realised. It was written to be performed, and to hear it out loud and see it in the flesh is a joy!

“It appears to masquerade as a learned, academically demanding piece, but it’s not. It’s a funny, daft, clever romp. It’s a fast-paced mix of Oscar Wilde, Monty Python, Music Hall, Karl Marx and the Goon Show.”

If you could tell our audiences 3 things it may help to know, before coming to see Travesties, what would they be?

Firstly, you don’t need to know anything. When Michael Palin burst into a scene, screaming “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”, we didn’t need to know anything about history, did we?
Thirdly, there is no Secondly.
And Secondly, oh wait, there it is.

What will the audience be thinking about in the car as they drive home after this show?

That was BRILLIANT! How do they learn all those lines!?

Finally, what’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage and the curtain goes up?

The last thing I do (after pacing in the wings) is repeat my first line to myself. Then trust to luck!