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The Real Thing at The Old Vic

Marion Marples

In the 1982 play The Real Thing Tom Stoppard explores what it really means to be a writer or an actor and how real life relationships contrast with them.

Writer Henry, played by Toby Stephens, with shades of Hugh Grant and David Cameron, is the most solid character. Scenes with his actress wife Charlotte, (Fenella Woolgar) are played across the wide stage, so you concentrate on the individual, rather than the relationship, in a rather televisual way.

It quickly transpires that she is having an affair with her co lead, Max (Barnaby Kay), who is married to Annie, a ditsy actress (Hattie Morahan). Annie is having an affair with, and later marries, Henry. The carefully constructed house of cards soon topples.

Against this scenario Annie is drawn to a real life protestor, who is unfairly imprisoned. In meeting this character, the actors cannot cope or relate to him -he is a 'real nightmare'. Brodie has, in prison, written a play, which Annie wants to perform: however, the real writer knows the words to be trite and meaningless.

The play has more life, the relationships more real, when it is quoting from Shakespeare or Jacobean drama.

After nearly 30 years of psychobabble, exploring similar ideas, Stoppard's words sometimes seem rather meaningless themselves. Does the play add up to much? I'm not convinced. It is an entertaining but ultimately insubstantial comedy.

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