The Theatreguide.London Review
the 1970s Tom Stoppard's critical reputation was, unjustly, that
of a writer of incredible wit and verbal facility who had no real
subject, nothing his plays were about except their own wit and
was wrong, of
course, but his 1982 play may have been partly inspired as a retort to
the critics, since it openly uses its wit and eloquence in the service
of deeply-held feelings.
about a playwright of incredible wit and verbal facility who feels
things passionately although, ironically, he has trouble writing about
the things he feels. He is thrillingly in love with his second wife but
can't write the play that would express that, though he can - and does
- speak of his love in several eloquent and heartfelt near-arias.
in the course of the story how very deep is his reverence for language
and for the high standards of literature, and he gets to argue those
feelings with equal fervour and brilliance.
generated by the unexpected clash of those two passions - for love and
for literature - when the wife he adores takes up the cause of a
prisoner who has tried to express his politics in a really bad play
that she wants her husband to doctor and help get produced.
dilemma this puts the protagonist in weakens the marriage just enough
to let other cracks develop, creating situations that will test the
depth and solidity of his love and of his ability to express it.
prisoner himself turns out to be a bit of a red herring, quickly
disposed of later in the play, as Stoppard's attention is focussed
on the damage he has done by making the playwright character
aware of the depth of his feelings and the conflicts between them.
so The Real
Thing offers all the clever jokes, aphorisms and verbal razzle-dazzle
audiences and critics had come to expect from Stoppard, but this time
with an unmistakable core of feeling and human experience (that of
course had been there in the earlier plays, but missed by those who saw
only the surface glibness).
is easy to see
why Toby Stephens was attracted to the role of the playwright in this
revival. He has several scenes in which he gets to express his
character's deeply held feelings in eloquent prose, along with moments
in which the power of his emotion catches the character by surprise and
briefly silences him.
Stephens holds the stage easily and never allows the character to become either too glib or too maudlin, so that we believe his emotional journey even as we are entertained by its expression.
As the object of
his adoration, Hattie Morahan is sometimes unfairly used by Stoppard as
a straight man and feed, setting up the conversations that will allow
Stephens' character to shine, and she is most effective in early scenes
that allow her to use her personality and body language to make clear
that she matches his love without being quite so verbal about it.
strong moments as the first wife who has moved on to the position of
wise and bemused observer, but the rest of the cast are generally there
to be spoken at or to jog the plot along a bit.
was running the risk that the play could veer too far toward either wit
or soppiness, so director Anna Mackmin had to keep the tone balanced on
that tightrope, which she does with great skill and sensitivity.
written many plays that put to rest the canard that his works have no
heart beneath their wit. But if you've ever felt that suspicion, see
this excellent revival of The Real Thing to discover the real writer
about real feelings that he is.
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Review - The Real Thing - Old Vic 2010