Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing teases its audience with the writer’s famous multi-layered story-arcs, in this case involving at least one play within a play where life and art interchangeably imitate each other.
Playwright Henry (Christopher Tomkinson) is married to actress Charlotte (Emily Weare), both of whom share a friendship with couple Max and Annie (Peter Eyers and Ainslie McGlynn), who are both professional actors. Their stories intertwine and change as details of their relationships are revealed and younger players enter the scene.
Their lives begin to imitate Henry’s imagination as their art also in parts reflect the couples’ experiences, lending itself to a bit of entertaining guesswork, which while often compelling never reaches the heights of Stoppard’s Arcadia or other similarly-styled plays penned by the famous author, of which there are many.
Most interesting for its autobiographical elements, The Real Thing features an occasionally funny yet less-than involving exploration of the relationship between fiction and reality, partly due to the engaging dialogue characteristic of Stoppard productions being mostly relegated to the ostensible fiction elements of the story or plays within the play.
The cast are more than competent, Tomkinson in particular who in the lead role commands much of the action as he vents his frustrations and thoughts on his confidants. Despite this, Henry’s few quips and diatribes are never as enjoyable as the moments where the dialogue his character has put together is being performed by the actors in one of Henry’s own plays.
Moreover, the difference between reality and fantasy is all that much more confusing due to the indistinctiveness of the character’s surrounds in each new sequence. The lighting and set-design between different time periods, scenes and the fictions/realities in the play are barely altered between sequences, rendering an already confusing play all that much more indiscernible.
While attempting to draw a clear comparison between ostensible fiction and reality is an evident theme of the play, the production could have benefited from making its various chapters that much more distinguishable to help progress the action and engage the audience.
An entertaining concept which features limited hallmarks of Stoppard’s expertise, this production is best suited to the writer’s most ardent fans.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
The Real Thing
By Tom Stoppard
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Peter Eyers, Charlotte Hazzard, Ainslie McGlynn, Christopher Tomkinson, Emily Weare, Benjamin Winckle
The New Theatre, Newtown
6 October – 7 November 2015