The Real Thing at The Rose Theatre in Kingston: Review

Laurence Fox (as Henry) and Flora Spencer-Longhurst (as Annie). Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Laurence Fox (as Henry) and Flora Spencer-Longhurst (as Annie). Photo: Edmond Terakopian - Credit: Photo: Edmond Terakopian / www.t

First staged in London’s West End in 1982, The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard calls on the theme of marital infidelity as its core thread, but digs deeper, lingering on seemingly insignificant comments and touching raw nerves with humour yet astute sincerity.

The plot is fairly straightforward - Henry is a sharp and successful playwright and in the opening act his wife Charlotte, an actress, appears in a scene from his play about a couple whose marriage is on the verge of collapse. Max, her leading man, is married to an actress, Annie, whom we meet in scene 2 and quickly realise she is having an affair with Henry. Real life imitates art at this stage but who’s in love with whom? Are they really in love? Is it the real thing?

Directed by former Rose Artistic Director, Stephen Unwin, this great revival includes a great cast including Laurence Fox, immediately recognisable as Lewis’s sidekick in the TV drama of the same name. Fox plays the part of the slightly supercilious but lovable Henry with great conviction, the only frustration being that some of Stoppard’s wonderfully witty lines are lost in Fox’s effusive delivery of dialogue. Rebecca Johnson is perfect as his wife, Charlotte, relaxing into the role from the outset. Charlotte gently digs at her husband, claiming he has a joke reflex rather than a sense of humour and often echoing lines from the very scenes he has written in his own plays.

The comprehension and grasp of dialogue is so important in Stoppard’s plays. Here he is at his most witty with some tender and touching writing. Our attention is grasped from the outset, lines are like golden nuggets thrown to the air and to miss them is disappointing. On occasion I wanted to press the pause button as phrases and observations came so thick and fast, important of course for the pace of the play.

On ‘words’ Henry himself says, “I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.”

The cast in this production includes Adam Jackson-Smith as Max, and Flora Spencer-Longhurst, both convincing in their roles of Max and Annie. As close friends of Henry and Charlotte, they are effective pawns in the complex game of love and fidelity, or rather, infidelity.

Despite the play being written over 30 years ago, the dialogue is so relevant today and the communication of love between lovers, partners and family is ultimately the subject of The Real Thing. Stoppard said of the revival, “We felt there was no point in trying to update it. Things like love and friendship don’t really change, a play about love and marriage is pretty much timeless.”

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Amongst the fine lines and great acting, Unwin’s adaptation also includes clips of music that clearly resonated with the audience on the opening night at The Rose Theatre. Happy memories of turntables and catalogued collections of LPs resulted in a feeling of warmth and familiarity that permeated through the audience. Renewed reflections on the meaning of love were also very prevalent, and although some might feel that Henry got off very lightly in his infidelity, one can’t resist a glimmer of sympathy for him in the closing scenes.

The Real Thing is at The Rose Theatre, Kingston until Saturday October 14. | 0208 174 0090

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