chapter  11
Tom Stoppard and the Politics of Listening
Pages 22

The premise with which Travesties opens, that the creativity of listening can be derronstrated specifically in the ways we listen to language, is explored rather more successfully than in Tzara's hat-trick by After Magritte. The play is constructed out of the various attempts to account for and explain two mysterious sights: the bizarre tableau with which the play opens (and which Inspector Foot regards as 'suspicious') and the apparently unidentifiable witness who will prove the innocence of Harris et al. Harris and his wife are locked in debate about the bizarre and desperate figure' (Stoppard, 1971, p. 34) they have seen in Ponsonby Place. Thelma recalls a footballer in strip and Harris a pyjama-clad figure carrying not a football but a tortoise. You must be blind', insists Thelma. 'It was he who was blind', canes the equable response (p. 14). 'I happened to see him with my own eyes', continues Harris. 'we all saw - ' counters Thelma. 'I am only telling you what I saw!' (p. 19) repeats her husband, with mounting fury. Both are adamant that they are reporting only what they have seen; they are also equally incapable of recognising the degree to which they have themselves created the mystery as the initial visual impression becomes buried deeper and deeper beneath their insistence that every element should cohere and be related to a single explanatory factor. What they discover, in the course of their clash with Fbot of the Yard, is that language is as difficult to interpret, as capable of transformation, as the evidence of their senses.