The Real Thing could be excruciating. It could be yet another one of those plays where combinations of angst-ridden, middle-class, pseudo-intellectuals sit around on sofas bemoaning how unhappy they are and sniping at each other while maintaining a façade of civility and decorum.
Thankfully, what sets this 1982 revival apart from many of its tedious counterparts is the skilled writing of Tom Stoppard. From the very first moments the exchanges between the characters crackle with wit and rhythm as the play begins its examination of what is “real”, whether that is in art, politics or love.
Undoubtedly some of the dialogue is so smart and coruscating that at times it all too readily reveals the hand of the author but Stoppard facilitates his want to write flash, grandstanding monologues by conveniently making his central character a flash, grandstanding playwright.
Henry (played with relish by Gerald Kyd) is a successful high-brow writer whose sharp mind, and sharper tongue, masks a romanticism and self-doubt which is exposed by his love for his friend’s actor wife Annie (Marianne Oldham ably holding her own opposite such a dominating character).
This co-production between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the English Touring Theatre is solidly mounted and zips along apace. There is arguably a lack of true drama in the play, but the slow unpicking of Henry’s carefully constructed self-image by those he deems inferior is a cruel pleasure. To borrow one of Henry’s analogies, The Real Thing represents Stoppard in good nick and hitting them out the middle of the bat.