Henry (Stephens) is a successful and talented playwright married to Charlotte, an actress playing the lead in his current play about adultery. Her co-star and friend Max, is married to Annie, also an actor. Henry and Annie have fallen in love, but is it any more real than the subjects in Henry’s play? As the story unravels, Henry discovers that love - ‘the real thing’ - can be unpredictable and painful.
The Real Thing was famously revived at the Donmar Warehouse in 1999, in a production that was also directed by David Leveaux and starred Stephen Dillane and Jennifer Ehle as Henry and Annie. The following year, that production transferred first to the West End and then on to Broadway, where it won three Tony Awards, for Best Revival of a Play and Best Actor and Actress for Dillane and Ehle (See News, 5 Jun 2000).
The new production returns Stoppard’s work to the Old Vic, where his first play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, was a breakthrough hit in 1967. Stoppard’s many other plays include Jumpers, The Real Inspector Hound, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia, Travesties, Hapgood, Artist Descending a Staircase (currently revived in a fringe production at the Old Red Lion), Arcadia (revived in the West End earlier this year) and, co-written with Andre Previn, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, which returns to the National Theatre next month (See News, 7 May 2009).
At the Old Vic, The Real Thing is directed by Anna Mackmin (whose previous credits include Under the Blue Sky, Hedda Gabler, In Celebration and, at the Old Vic earlier this year, Dancing at Lughnasa) and designed by Lez Brotherston, with lighting by Hugh Vanstone and sound by Simon Baker.
The son of actors Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, Toby Stephens’ many stage credits include The Doll’s House, Tartuff, Phedre, Betrayal, A Streetcar Named Desire, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Coriolanus, Wallenstein and, earlier this year opposite Gillian Anderson at the Donmar Warehouse, A Doll’s House. His screen credits include Jane Eyre, Cambridge Spies, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The Camomile Lawn, Orlando, Die Another Day and The Great Gatsby. No further casting for The Real Thing has yet been announced.
The Real Thing continues until 5 June 2010. It’s followed at the Old Vic by Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project productions of As You Like It and The Tempest, which run in rep from 12 June to 21 August (See News, 16 Oct 2009). Ahead of The Real Thing, David Grindley’s revival of John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, starring Anthony Head and Lesley Manville, plays 19 January to 3 April 2010 (previews from 7 January).