Theatre Review: The Real Thing @ the Old Vic

By Zoe Craig Last edited 107 months ago
Theatre Review: The Real Thing @ the Old Vic

0423_therealthing_2.jpgAfter seeing The Real Thing at the Old Vic last night, we couldn't help noticing lots of ads for Jennifer Lopez's new rom-com, The Back-Up Plan, all over Waterloo Station.

The contrast between the stunning quality of what we'd just seen on stage at the Old Vic, not only romantic and laugh-out-loud funny, but also achingly realistic, truthful, and witty, and what's on offer at various cinemas around the capital from 7 May could not have been more pronounced.

In short, if you want to see a good romantic comedy, go and see Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing.

Of course, the subjects are slightly older than the classic rom-com fare that comes out of Hollywood, but they're no less fascinating for that. Henry is a married playwright, who says he "can't write love."

"I try to write it properly, and it just comes out embarrassing. It's either childish or it's rude. And the rude bits are absolutely juvenile."

But he has written infidelity, and his wife is playing the lead in his latest play. Meanwhile, he's also being unfaithful in real life. Is this second love the elusive "real thing" of the title, the thing Henry so struggles to write?

As well as being older, Stoppard's characters are more British, honest and intelligent than the leads in most romantic films. But they're still able to laugh at the absurdity of love and the way it makes you behave; and they still feel the searing pain of a betrayal or a love lost. As Annie, Hattie Morahan is all sweet giggles and gasps in the first weeks of love, perfectly capturing that wonderful "can't believe my luck" feeling. Later, when Henry, brilliantly played by Toby Stephens, finally finishes dissecting his betrayal, he moves with that awkwardness you feel after a long argument spent holding your body in tension, the physical hurt reflecting the emotional: "real life" now reflects Henry's play: here is the "self-knowledge through pain" he'd written about.

And Stoppard could / should feel slightly short-changed in our comparing The Real Thing to a rom-com. The Real Thing is about much more than just love: it takes in the nature of good writing, the sanctity of words, political protest, and the power of pop music v opera: the Righteous Brothers or Verdi, anyone?

Anna Mackmin's production lets all the layers of Stoppard's wonderful writing weave around each other to create a great show. Lez Brotherston's classy set, all modern lines and clever moving panels, also seems to reflect the fantastic script. And the two leads, Stephens and Morahan, are impeccable. Fenella Woolgar is also great, playing Henry's first wife, Charlotte, as a real Gillian McKeith of a woman - tactless and dreadful in her honesty.

So if you're looking for a laugh about love, and a wonderful study of all the pain that goes with it, book The Real Thing now. And when you leave the theatre, listening to the strains of The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" and grinning from ear to ear, tell us you'd rather see something starring Jennifer Lopez.

The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard plays at The Old Vic until 5 Jun. Tickets start from just £5 if you qualify for cheap seats! Book online or call 0844 871 7628.

Last Updated 23 April 2010