THE REAL THING
Tom Stoppard is probably the wittiest playwright alive but The Real Thing is far from his wittiest play. He writes here about love but not very persuasively, and about hypocritical bleeding-heart liberalism with a kind of defensive self-righteousness that foregrounds the play’s conservative politics and shows its age as a relic of the Thatcher years. (It was first produced in 1982.) Vincent Gale and Jennifer Lines do solid work as the central couple but neither character is likable and Michael Shamata’s leaden Arts Club production has little else to recommend it. The Real Thing could use some real zing.
The central character is a playwright with conservative politics—much like Stoppard himself—who writes a play about adultery, the plot of which is reflected in the adulterous relationships that ripple across the stage. Metatheatrical ironies abound as playwright Henry (Gale) ends up with Annie (Lines), an actress. Annie, a kind of serial adultress, also has an affair with an actor (Charlie Gallant), who is playing her brother/lover in a production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (irony, irony). Running through The Real Thing is an offstage subplot involving an anti-war protester who has become a liberal cause célèbre among Annie and her friends, while Henry keeps grumbling that he’s just a thug and a lout. Guess what he turns out to be when we finally meet him.
Some very good actors—Simon Bradbury, Jennifer Clement, Julie McIsaac—get relatively little stage time as Stoppard’s surrogate, Henry, monopolizes centre stage. Director Shamata literally plops him down there, in a chair, for much of the show as Henry holds court unhappily and expounds not terribly wittily on the state of things: bad writing, bad politics, love, pop music. And whenever things threaten to gain some momentum, a scene change comes along. Stage hands come out and adjust a few pieces of furniture and the revolve revolves, taking much too long for too little effect on John Ferguson’s bland and confusing set: the dialogue clearly indicates the 1980s but Henry’s decor includes flat-screen TVs and Mac laptops.
This one just didn’t do it for me.