Sydney Theatre Company presents The Real Thing
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Simon Phillips
How many centuries have we mortals tied ourselves in knots trying to fathom love?
Tom Stoppard in ‘The Real Thing’ creates playwright ‘Henry’ to fathom that very thing: ‘I don’t know how to write love. I try to write it properly and it comes out embarrassing. It’s either childish or it’s rude …
The way our playwright (Johnny Carr) eventually puts it on paper is in a lame play that centres round Henry’s fictional playwright character obsessing over whether his fictional wife has committed infidelity. This 'play within a play' vehicle is given a little twist as Henry is actually having an affair with the lead actor’s wife (‘Annie’, played by Geraldine Hakewill) and Henry’s real wife at the time (‘Charlotte’ played by Rachel Gordon) is playing the fictional wife. Messy and a wee bit confusing? You bet.
Henry’s play was a dud but his new life with new partner ‒ yes, Henry moves in with ‘Annie’ ‒ does feel like 'the real thing' … until Henry begins to suspect that his new beloved is having an affair.
For a playwright who has taken on such sophisticated and high-brow themes as thermodynamics, chaos theory, quantum mechanics and other intellectually challenging themes, it seems that Tom Stoppard has actually taken on his toughest topic in ‘The Real Thing’ for there is no all-encompassing theory that he may prove, disprove or illustrate by way of clever analogy in the human realm. While intellectual theories are graspable, love frequently does not comply to rules and can only be experienced through its living.
A credit to Stoppard’s bravery, even though he does put love through the filters of economics and psychology he doesn’t digress too far from exploring those feelings that he finds so hard to nail down with words.
Do see ‘The Real Thing’. Yes, it possibly is a little dated in the era of Tinder and Grindr but it will provide you with both a 'romcom' and a thought-provoking evening.