DramaReviewSouth East

The Real Thing – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Writer: Tom Stoppard

Director: Stephen Unwin

Reviewer: Steve Turner

Written and first performed in 1982 Tom Stoppard’s study of love, deception and infidelity retains its raw edge and soft underside and still feels very contemporary. Perhaps as a reflection of how little change there is in our feelings about love and friendship, the only things in the script which date the play to the 80s are references to digital watches and American missiles on a UK airbase.  Jonathan Fensom’s set leaves us in no such doubt though with vinyl records, G-Plan furniture and a typewriter setting the scene perfectly.

As with all Stoppard plays the script is full of witticisms, put-downs, inventive wordplay and some caustic exchanges, all handled adroitly by an excellent cast.

Laurence Fox as Henry (the focal point of the play) delivers his lines with a deliciously sardonic air, always looking to have the last word, usually whilst looking down on the subject of his latest bon mot. Based in part on Stoppard himself it is difficult to empathise with Henry, as he seems to delight in his own smug superiority. There is, however, a human heart beating underneath the cold exterior and despite being told that he doesn’t care enough to care, we find out that he is vulnerable too. Fox is excellent in this role, never faltering throughout, his rather affected plummy tones perfectly judged.

Henry’s wife Charlotte finds his relaxed attitude a constant source of irritation. Try as she might she cannot seem to stir him into any mood other than a superficial one, unaware that he is having an affair with another actress which would explain his detachment from her. Rebecca Johnson brings a liveliness to the character of Charlotte with the exchanges between her and Fox leaving the feeling that there could have been a little more exploration of the relationship.

Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Annie, the actress with whom Henry is having the affair, is free-spirited, wilful, vibrant and yet too vulnerable underneath. Her scenes with Fox as they each struggle to understand what they want from each other and the relationship are particularly engaging.

There is much use of the play within a play format with a very entertaining section which leads one initially to wonder which part is the play within the play and which part the real life of the actors, a theme that appears more than once in the work. The subplot regarding a jailed soldier and Annie’s attempts to get him released feels a bit clunky however and doesn’t really add that much to the overall tone.

Cleverly scripted, artfully staged and artistically lit this is a wonderful revival, full of laughs, surprises and touches of melancholy and despair all combining in a heartfelt exploration of the nature of love, trust, honesty and deceitfulness.

Runs until 11th November |  Image: contributed

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