Travesty is the first play by Liam Williams. It is a gender-swapped look at the different milestones of a typical relationship. The gender swapping works nicely to emphasise the mannerisms particular to men and women – in this case Ben and Anna, since they are exposed by their opposites. The bedroom setting allows the audience to observe intimately how each actor postures themselves.
Ben (portrayed by Lydia Larsen) is in many ways typically masculine. Ben is a romantic at heart, but somewhat guarded in his way of speaking. Ben’s inertia means that true expression arrives either in bursts of philosophy or violent frustration (he punches a wall offstage). He works as an English teacher and there is an intellectual brand of cynicism worked into his character. Perhaps they’re connected. He berates modern living in an impressive rant about how live is “mediated by consumption”, for example couples preferring to experience commercial things together, rather than share emotional interactions. These more anxious moments, betraying his insecurity and hinting at his aspirations for the future, are a testament to Williams’ writing ability.
Larsen’s performance is made more brilliant by the attention to small details. For example, Ben procrastinates in bed by reading an article about ‘Vertical Farming’ on his laptop, rather than hanging up the washing when Anna asks. The calibre of the acting here is wonderful: absent-minded reflexes, such as annoying quirks like this procrastination, are the important touches to the play.
Anna (Pierro Niel-Mee) is similarly great. Pierro’s character is more distracted, initially amorous, but with time more distanced from Ben’s desire to settle. A trip to Whitstable galvanises their attraction to each other, but this appears to be the pinnacle of attachment. Ben keeps a token of this trip, a shell, which is more symbolically precious to him than to Anna.
Once again Williams proper attention to detail really makes the play a success. For instance, Anna exhibits an innocuous sort of complacency, flopping about the bedroom, sighing and puffing, often leading to slight comic disagreements with Ben. The couple goes through all the expected motions and there’s an inevitable split, which causes Ben’s final prostration in front of Anna. For Williams’ first play Travesty is very promising. The writing is a display of rare innate skill. The movement through intimacy, anger, lust, casual conversation and all the different shades is done perfectly.