by Tom Stoppard.

Oxford Playhouse Beaumont Street OX1 2LW To 30 June.
Tue-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 30 June 2.30pm.
Captioned/Post-show Talk 28 June.
TICKETS: 01865 305305.

then Northcott Theatre Stocker Road EX4 4QB 3-7 July 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Captioned/Post-show Talk 4 July.
TICKETS: 01392 493493.

Runs: 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 July.

A first-rate bat of a play, given an adequate innings.

It had been possible to laugh and remain detached with Tom Stoppard’s plays – until, in 1982, The Real Thing came along. The play synthesises his stance against unreflective Leftist orthodoxies, defends his (classical) musical ignorance and offers a defence of writing as an art rather than a conveyance for raw messages.

Over all these, it explores a playwright searching for a way to write about love in the wake of a series of brilliant scripts – whether that be Tom, Dick or Henry. All the plot strands, dialogue and briefly-seen characters work in some way towards Henry’s final, direct statement. Along the way, life comes to mirror art for him; the jealousy first seen in his play ‘House of Cards’ later enters his home, where he hasn’t the same facility to brush it away with a flick of the plot. And Stoppard takes him through a tangle of relationships complicating the early simplicity of love, challenging his artistic stance as the action strips away defensive irony and grammatical punctiliousness in moving towards a simple statement.

Love, too, brings compromise as Henry agrees to rework an amateurish TV script by a young soldier convicted for an anti-war protest, a script that plonks on paper what the soldier wants to say. Stoppard, meanwhile, is showing how to do that with complexity and skill in his play, memorably using a cricket bat to hit the point home, Henry explaining the subtlety and suppleness of a well-made bat with feeling and humour.

It comes across clearly in Kate Saxon’s decent but uninspired revival for English Touring Theatre, which, in general, is adequately acted in a B-teamish way. Marianne Oldham gives Henry’s new partner, the actor Annie, an independent spark of life, joyful, and strong-minded, while Gerald Kyd catches much of the writer’s interior gloom. The revolving and sliding sections of Simon Higlett’s set are ingenious but changes still take some time, and the play-within-a-play point about the opening scene isn’t clear when the same type of changes operate between all scenes.

Still, a play so richly textured is rewarding, even in a merely adequate production.

Charlotte: Sarah Ball.
Brodie: Sandy Batchelor.
Henry: Gerald Kyd.
Debbie: Georgina Leonidas.
Billy: Adam O’Brian.
Annie: Marianne Oldham.
Max: Simon Scardifield.

Director: Kate Saxon.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: Mic Pool.
Composer: Dominic Haslam.
Assistant director: Emily Kempson.

2012-06-27 10:16:54

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