The Real Stoppard: Review of New Theatre’s The Real Thing
New Theatre brings to stage Tom Stoppard’s exploration of the authentic and the fake in The Real Thing (1982). It also turns out to be somewhat autobiographical, which only adds an additional layer to the game he plays with us.
Henry is a middle-aged playwright who starts out having an affair with an actress, Annie, before the two eventually get married. He likes to think of himself as an intellectual and is determined to present as such. Sad truth, though, is that Henry is a lot better at talking about life and love in the high-brow abstract than he is at experiencing or genuinely expressing these emotions. This is reflected both in his writing and in his approach to relationships. There is some drama along the way, particularly focused around an incarcerated soldier, Brodie, whom Annie is working to have freed. We are also introduced, again and again, to other imitations and illusions, be it in art or politics. Ultimately though, the play is really about Henry learning to see the world from a different perspective, enabling him to move from being a bit of a phony to being the genuine article.
The Real Thing is infused with Stoppard’s trademark wit, which he even draws some satirical attention to, and of course there is an insightful speech or two about cricket bats, literature and carnal knowledge. For the most part director, Alice Livingstone, has put together a fairly faithful restaging of the play. The scene changes and lighting cues could have been a little snappier, but the all-around solid cast more than made up for it.
Like it or not, the Henry character carries the show. An intellectualizing snob, who thinks Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders is the best thing since Bach, Henry talks the talk but never walks the walk when it comes to comprehending the true nature of love and relationships. For him, the phrase ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ is particularly apt. It is a difficult yet rewarding task for Christopher Tomkinson who strikes just the right balance between flashy academic wit (just enough to be desirable) and pathetically needy. His partner in crime, Annie, played by the petite Ainslie McGlynn, is, by contrast, effortlessly alluring and passionate about life in all its mud and glory. In a nut shell, McGlynn must sell infidelity to the audience – and surprisingly, she more than manages. She is raw and emotional, craving real connection in a now flat marriage, and we see how, little by little, the heart may (even unintentionally) wander.
As Henry’s first wife Charlotte, the fabulous Emily Weare is highly watchable, possessing a naturally momentous energy that keeps throughout. Playing their quietly rebellious daughter, Debbie, Charlotte Hazzard finds great clarity in a sea of ideas and ideals. Peter Eyer, as Annie’s wet sock first husband Max, is warm and unassuming, whilst packing a real farcical punch as his ‘play-within-a-play’ snooty character. Despite the occasional accent wobble, Benjamin Winckle provided a much needed contrast as the earthy young actor Billy, doubling as the boofhead Scottish prisoner Brodie. Both the actor and the Billy character breathe fresh air into the somewhat stuffy middle-aged pairings, and reminded us of just how easy it is to fall for charisma and authentic connection.
Although The Real Thing is almost universally seen as one of the centerpieces of Stoppard’s career, its plodding first act will always be a detraction; nevertheless, there is great enjoyment to be derived in this production from a cast that can hardly be faulted. Once again the New Theatre delivers the goods.
The Real Thing is playing at the New Theatre until the 7th of November. For more information see: http://newtheatre.org.au/the-real-thing/