WORDS lie at the heart of every play. Never more so than when the playwright in question is the eloquent Tom Stoppard, writing about a playwright espousing the sanctity of words.
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KING’S THEATRE, Leven Street
In The Real Thing, he does just that as he turns his attention to infidelity and its emotional causes and ramifications.
It makes for a witty, if uneven and ultimately unsatisfying, night of theatre.
Henry is the smartest and sharpest playwright of his generation.
His wife, Charlotte, an actress, has been appearing in a play by Henry about a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. Max, her leading man, is also married to an actress, Annie.
When Henry’s affair with Annie threatens to destroy his own marriage, he realises life has started imitating art. But are they really in love? Is it the real thing?
Stoppard’s musings about love and adultery are played out on Jonathan Fensom’s strangely anachronistic set - curiously contemporary panelling frames a world of typewriters and transistors, standard lamps and shades of brown.
Laurence Fox, best known as DS James Hathaway in the ITV crime drama Lewis, uses his gangly frame to good, angular effect as Henry, the verbose writer who believes words are sacred.
All too often, however, his rapid-fire delivery means some of the words he utters are gabbled.
Nevertheless, in his odd-socks, Fox creates a likeable, laid-back rogue.
Caddish one moment, childlike the next, his idiosyncratic performance is cheekily endearing.
He also reveals a convincing Scottish accent at one point.
Fox receives strong support from the women in Henry’s life, Rebecca Johnson as Charlotte and Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Annie, both feisty, dominant creations.
Adam Jackson-Smith too impresses as Max. Elsewhere, performances are more haphazard.
Although the piece fizzes along with snappy one-liners never failing to hit home in the short 43-minute first act, Stephen Unwin’s direction allows the pace to drop midway through Act Two.
What should be delivered as sparkling speeches descend into earnest diatribes. It’s not all the fault of the cast.
If there is an aloofness about Stoppard’s protagonist, so too there is in his text.
Set in the worst kind of middle-class bubble, complete with ‘working-class pet project’ to keep Henry’s muse feeling fulfilled, it speaks to a society that has moved on in more ways than Stoppard might ever have imagined.
First staged in 1982, attitudes to sex and relationships have changed beyond all recognition in the intervening four decades.
Stoppard’s play may have once have resonated with audiences as being the real thing, it’s doubtful it still does to the same degree.
Run ends Saturday 28 October