Travesty

It’s a bowl of sugar mixed with grit. Liam Williams, Edinburgh Comedy darling, has written a play and it’s a two-hand romance. Travesty charts the relationship of yuppies Ben and Anna, from their intrepid beginnings to the later, harder trials. But the whole thing is spiced up: actors Lydia Larsen and Pierro Niel-Mee swap genders, so Niel-Mee’s a girl and Larsen’s a boy. The intention is clear: a swap might throw light on the gender dynamics often left out in this overdone genre.

Travesty takes a big, blunt hammer when it wants to make cultural analysis and smashes us over the head with it

It doesn’t do this, regrettably. The gender-switching is unremarkable post-opening and sadly highlights how two-dimensional Anna’s character is. Ben (Williams’ self-insert) is the far more interesting partner, in a classic case of a male writer giving all the pathos to a man. Still, Larsen’s got a wonderfully cold-blooded presence as Ben, who’s fun when he eventually heats up.

The company behind Travesty, Fight in the Dog, say they aim to be “bridging the gap between the worlds of theatre and comedy”. There was a fair amount of laughter in the audience, but the jokes weren’t anyway near the standard of Williams’ standup. It’s got broad humour, and by that I mean it’s aimed at every Guardian reader who’s ever lived. I don’t think it’s healthy for an audience guffaw at absolutely any reference to their middle-class lifestyles.

The issues with humour indicate what’s generally wrong. On the blurb, Travesty suggests it’ll explore “the ethical dimensions of modern love”, promising to deconstruct the romance genre. The attempt at some self-awareness might be refreshing if this is the first yuppie-couple play that you’ve seen, but I want to assure you that that type’s been done before, and better, whether it’s the 2015 Fringe’s Solid Life of Sugar Water or Duncan MacMillan's Lungs. Travesty takes a big, blunt hammer when it wants to make cultural analysis and smashes us over the head with it; it’s not pleasant. There’s an attempt to soften the blow by making Ben erudite (read: self-insert), but even this can’t soothe the out-of-place declamations. A lot of these would work woven into a standup set, but theatre isn’t a soapbox. The characters might as well hold up a sign saying: “Look how sincere we are!”. Admittedly, a couple of their thoughts stick, but even then it’s all for nothing when they’re trampled by the sick, saccharine moments of the play’s conclusion.

I love Liam Williams’ comedy. I can’t abide his drama, though. It’s very, very twee. But it’s tweeness with a self-referential badge on it, and it wears the thing like a nit. Here’s hoping he’ll take his observational knack and apply it to a finer product next time. 

Reviews by Oliver Simmonds

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The Blurb

The debut play by double Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee Liam Williams. This is a play about gender, the ethical dimensions of modern love, and a mandatory sillier third theme to make the whole thing seem less serious, in this case lemon tart. Praise for Liam Williams: ‘Voice of a generation’ (Independent). ‘An extraordinary cri de coeur’ ***** (Guardian).

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