The Real Thing stays at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 21 October 2017 before continuing with the UK tour, book tickets here: Malvern Theatres
Star rating: *****
The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard is not a piece I was readily familiar with, however the themes and intricacies of the script certainly don’t cover unfamiliar territory.
The opening scene is set in one of Henry’s (Laurence Fox) productions, although that’s not evident until the action moves on from the set to which Charlotte (Rebecca Johnson) and Max (Adam Jackson-Smith) are portraying. Henry is essentially a romantic and we first meet him while he is searching through records for his Dessert Island disc choices. Henry’s taste in music could be described as ‘corny pop’ which his wife, Charlotte is ready to point out to him. The pair have a mutually mocking relationship and they don’t shy away from it when Max and his wife, Annie (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) – who is also an actor, arrive to indulge in a spot of Bucks Fizz. The assumption in the offing when the couple arrive is that Annie and Henry are having an affair. Which of course, they are – it’s predictable from that perspective. However, not so predictable is that Annie and Henry make a life together out of the affair and despite plenty of room for jealousy, what they have is ‘the real thing’.
It’s a fascinating exploration of relationships, not only romantic ones but friendships and the parents/daughter dynamic too. There’s also the recurring undercurrent of politics as Annie supports her controversial jailbird ‘pal’ Brodie (Santino Smith).
The set is contemporary chic and moves smoothly with the action. The simplicity of it allows the dialogue and interaction to take the lead and with a wordsmith such as Stoppard at the helm, I feel that’s necessary.
Laurence Fox is exceptional in the role of Henry, he gives the character an air of vague nonchalance while simultaneously bearing his feelings with raw honesty. His chemistry with Rebecca Johnson as Charlotte is particularly notable and their scenes set the pace for the piece. Johnson embraces the absurdities and quirks of Charlotte and embodies the character completely. I always enjoy her work and this another example of her remarkable talent. Adam Jackson-Smith gives a strong performance as Max, coming into his won when he realises his marriage to Annie is over. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is also a revelation as Annie, a character who could almost be played as a flighty, yet it’s reigned in to allow the journey to unfold steadily. Kit Young is definitely one to watch, he plays Billy, a youthful actor who develops a crush on the leading lady he’s working with – the leading lady being Annie.
Stephen Unwin has worked his magic again and directed a play which challenges, questions and leaves plenty of room for analysis. A fine production of Stoppard’s work which I could watch multiple times and not tire of. Go and see it – there are a few weeks of the tour remaining.