REVIEW: The Real Thing @Theatre Royal

October 31, 2017

The Real Thing

By Tom Stoppard

Theatre Royal

A warm and comfy opening promised much, good music, a well-balanced cast, glossy set, a fun opening scene, a rug-pull, such potential; but then a miasma seemed to come over me and the play receded into cynicism.

I wasn’t gripped and although folk rave about this play I found it trite and unengaging, the characters are unpleasant, the humour mean and the laughter snobbish. I’ve been a fan of Stoppard for most of my life but this play, thirty years old now and certainly showing its age, has made me reassess him.  This is a play all about the heart, but without one of its own.

The set was as interesting as the acting, there was some pretty good Gplan furniture on show, well sourced by designer Jonathan Fensom including a simply perfect Halo Groucho sofa in faded Aniline leather, a fetching teak Danish style sideboard and a Charles E. style Swivel Chair with its ottoman that I coveted but I failed to engage with the actors. The ‘twist’ was more of a slight curve to the right and more of the same continued. It must be hard work to act so dismissively for so long and although the detachment of the characters and the dichotomy between what they say and what they do is part of the narrative engine of this play, I wasn’t convinced.

Stoppard’s words fly around, they are funny and caustic, the actors obviously enjoy speaking them, even if the sentences are often more than a mouthful, the set piece speeches are entertaining and irritating, clever, deep and shallow and it’s all very showy and apparently entertaining on one level, out came that cricket bat, but I was stumped.

The second half brought more laughter from the audience than the first and the cast seemed more settled, I sustained an interest in the sentences as they flew by but I didn’t care about any of the people on stage, the subplot of the solider/prisoner just another excuse for implausible grubbiness.  I wondered if a middle class intellectual so obsessed with taste would have prominent forearm tattoos’ in the early 1980’s , but that was it. At its core this is a depressing piece of theatre with far too much clowning around dressed up as meaning.

This play is all about honesty, I didn’t enjoy this play, honestly.

Plays until Saturday, November 4, 2017.