by Tom Stoppard.

Old Vic The Cut SE1 8NB To 5 June 2010.
Mon-Sat7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described May 27.
Captioned 20 May.
Running time: 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 871 7628 (£2.50 transaction fee – does not apply to Old Vic Supporters).
Review: Carole Woddis 20 April.

Who can love as much or write so well?
How do you like your Tom Stoppard? Witty, astringent, or compassionate? The last isn’t the word always associated with him. There can be something coldly dispassionate about those Stoppardian trills and verbal tricks. But in The Real Thing, written in 1982, Stoppard seems to be positively exhibitionistic in his desire to reveal every last twitch and grimace of the human heart to public view. Indeed, it comes very close, you suspect, to being one of Stoppard’s most autobiographical works.

Here it is, an amusing – and yes, there are more than enough bons mots to keep the Stoppardian connoisseur well satisfied – `rom-com’ of a play about a writer who falls in love with an actress (Felicity Kendal, the play’s first Annie, became the second Mrs Stoppard). There follows a twisting, Pinter-like exploration of amongst other things, love and infidelity. Like Pinter’s Betrayal (1978) there are two couples involved, Max and Annie, and Henry and Charlotte who quickly change partners – Annie, an actress, moving in with Henry, a writer.

Stoppard proceeds to anatomise the meaning of love with passing, equally heartfelt dictums relating to how to write properly.

Toby Stephens delivers these homilies with a prickly sincerity – less memorably than Stephen Dillane’s unforgettable portrait in David Leveaux’s 1999 Donmar revival, but touching enough in the latter stages where Henry parades his idea of love’s commitment over Hattie Morahan’s sparky, politically engaged, vaguely wayward Annie, shown as getting embroiled with younger men for no other reason than asserting a dash of control.

A sniff of the patronising lingers in the air, though Anna Mackmin’s production, shifting expertly between moods and rumbles of the Righteous Brothers, does its best to soften the Stoppardian prejudices.

Henry, you see, disdains `high class’ culture as he also disdains bad writing, political idealism and other people’s perception of love. Like Orsino, Stoppard’s alter ego asserts that no one is as capable of the depth of love as he.

It’s brilliant sleight of hand and Morahan and Fenella Woolgar (Charlotte) give nothing away. But, for all its emotional anguish, in the end the play leaves a strangely antipathetic after-taste.

Max: Barnaby Kay.
Charlotte: Fenella Woolgar.
Henry: Toby Stephens.
Annie: Hattie Morahan.
Billy: Tom Austen.
Debbie: Louise Calf.
Brodie: Jordan Young.

Director: Anna Mackmin.
Designer: Lez Brotherston.
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone.
Sound: Simon Baker for Autograph.
Video Design: Duncan McLean.

2010-04-25 23:22:40

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