Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 6 – Nov 7, 2015
Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Peter Eyers, Charlotte Hazzard, Ainslie McGlynn, Christopher Tomkinson, Emily Weare, Benjamin Winckle
Photography © Bob Seary
There are two main things being discussed in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing; the nature of relationships, and the process of making art. Through several “play within a play” segments, we attempt to get to the bottom of what is most honest, by looking past pretences for a grasp of the real. Monogamy, fidelity and longevity of relationships are dealt with in the most intellectually frank way, and although the play is now well over 30 years old, its propositions are no less refreshing and controversial. The extraordinarily articulate dissection of the creative process, along with the analysis of values that we place upon art, are also full of poignancy and resonance. The play is witty and pointedly intelligent, with challenging concepts and brilliantly delightful use of language that keep us entertained while placing our brains on overdrive.
Director Alice Livingstone is uncompromising with the depth of the text, while simultaneously introducing, quite miraculously, a jaunty pace to a staging that delivers solid laughs alongside a consistently astute level of discourse. The work suffers from a lack of visual imagination that results in stagnant and predictable physical compositions, but its meticulous attention to nuances in dialogue is more than impressive.
Leading man Christopher Tomkinson is the perfect blend of eccentricity, smarts and vulnerability. The actor’s thorough appreciation of the writing offers up an interpretation of Stoppard’s lines that is completely fascinating. He opens up a world of thinking that we rarely encounter; one that seems original yet is able to ring true on a very intimate level. Equally precise is Ainslie McGlynn in the role of Annie, whose embodiment of her character’s conflicts with monogamy and love are thoughtful and provocative. For all the talk about sex, the production’s energy is not particularly libidinous, but chemistry between players is of a good standard. The cast is a cohesive one that tells the story from a unified perspective, and the consequences are often powerful.
The Real Thing is an important work about universal experiences. Love may be hard to define, but it shapes everyone. We chase it constantly but seldom do we stop to reflect on these impulses. Tom Stoppard resists romantic delusions and preconceived notions to locate a truer understanding of that mysterious force underscoring so much of our lives. We want to know what love is, and he intends to show us.