Written in 1982, this was Tom Stoppard's first real examination of love and passion. Centering around the life of a playwright, his love and his words, the action moves between play-within-a-play and play itself, each holding a mirror up to the other and allowing us to look both at life and the playwright’s art.
The wrok begins with Charlotte (Marsha Fitzalan) coming home to Max (Michael Lumsden) and being accused of having an affair. The scene changes and we realise that the opening scene was actually a play and that Charlotte is really married to the playwright Henry (Neil Pearson), whilst Max is married to Annie (Geraldine Alexander). It transpires that Henry and Annie are actually having an affair and end up living together.
We move through their first few years and learn that Henry loves 'love' itself and Annie loves affairs, or rather then thrill of them. Annie goes on to have relationships with fellow actor Billy (Jonie Broom) and throughout has a fascination with idealised prisoner of conscience Brodie (Gareth Glen), who turns out to be objectionable when he finally turns up. Henry's very simple (and selfless) view of love comes under strain as he learns about himself through his exposure to divorce, being cheated on and his daughter Debbie's (Estelle Morgan) sexual awareness. But in the end, do we care?
The play is full of Stoppard's trademark verbal quips, cleverness and comedy but in the it end says very little. In fact it’s only really at the beginning of Act 2, where Henry is explaining the love he has for words, that the words actually convey much passion. It’s also only in this area that the actors appear to find their characters; for the rest, sadly, they do not. At no time did I feel that the actors were saying these words for the first time, created from thoughts in their heads and responses to their surroundings. Motivation was there none, not helped by Alan Strachan's direction which had them moving without purpose and almost completely lacking in the necessary body language.
The staging presented is splendid, but its problems become immediately apparent at the first scene change - the changes take too long, and in this play there are lots of them. Some actually take almost as long as the scenes in between, having a real impact on the pace of the play. The period also seemed confused, though guessing it did form the basis of several interval conversations.
Whilst this is a play correctly rendered onto stage, I am sure it is not a piece of theatre. There was simply no passion, or credibility, in the delivery.
Robert Iles (reviewed at Oxford Playhouse)