Tom Stoppard once said: "Theatre satisfies my capacity for safety and risk." On the surface, The Real Thing, which Stoppard premiered in 1983, is just 'another' play about adultery. But it’s written with such authority, humour and insight that you can’t help laughing as you explore the concept of the 'real thing' of the title.
Max (Christopher Wright) and Annie (Lucy Tregear) are not as happy as they seem. They’re both actors and, although they explore modern relationships in their plays, they’re not so good at facing up to the truth in their own lives. Annie embarks on an affair with Max's best friend, Henry (Peter Lindford), a famous playwright. This leaves his brittle but funny spouse Charlotte (Caroline Harding) out in the cold.
To reveal any more narrative strands might ruin the joy of watching Stoppard’s perceptive battle of wits. The play asks serious questions like can love exist with infidelity? Also more flippantly can one enjoy low art whilst penning high art? Suffice to say, there are many surprises and you do find yourself questioning the ideas of fate, destiny and the 'corny' romantic comedy concept of one true love being out there for everyone.
Harding conveys a hard, cynical edge which suits Stoppard's writing. Tregear's Annie is more vulnerable but ends up hurting the person she presumed was 'the one'. And in the key role of Henry, Lindford enjoys his quick-fire dialogue and physical comedy while also capturing a sense of longing beneath the sarcasm. Each performer treats the material with the utmost respect, rising to the challenges set by lines like: "Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight."
Due to the constant set changes, which momentarily take you away from the action, Chris Honer's production sometimes feels like a series of monologues. Still, Judith Croft's evocative 1980's set design is well worth waiting for. Ever adaptable, it – along with a blistering soundtrack of well-known pop hits from the era - provides a fitting backdrop to the pains the characters inflict upon one another. Likewise, Nick Richings' garish lighting exposes the vulnerability of these seemingly strong middle class folk.
All in all, this polished production does sublime justice to Stoppard’s beautifully written, multi award-winning play. Witty and painfully honest, this Real Thing is the real McCoy.