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The Real Thing: Oxford Playhouse
Henry is in a bit of a fix. A successful playwright, he has been invited to appear on Desert Island Discs, but doesn’t know much about any sort of music: luckily the girl in his life, Annie, is able to disabuse him of the idea that Bach pinched a tune from Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale before he airs that gaffe in public.
Henry is nothing if not opinionated, and in his 1980s play The Real Thing Tom Stoppard uses him as a mouthpiece for views “pretty close” to his own (he writes in a programme note) on the importance of good plot construction and verbal dexterity in playwriting. But Henry — I’m sure — is quite different from Stoppard in the way he expresses those views, for Henry is insufferably arrogant and patronising: “The India rubber pedagogue,” are the kindest words he uses to sneer at fellow playwright Brodie.
Gerald Kyd captures Henry to perfection in this English Touring Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse production. The patronising manner extends to Annie (an excellent performance from Marianne Oldham), who is at first positively nymphomaniac in her demands for instant sex. But the relationship gradually deepens, and it becomes clear that the pair really do love and need each other. However, in this multi-layered play, there are bumps along the way, particularly when Annie, an actor, decides to accept a role that will take her away for several weeks. Not only is the play written by the despised Brodie, but the cast also includes Billy (Adam O’Brian), who has previously had a fling with Annie, and who makes it very clear that he’d like to renew the affair. Thus Stoppard introduces jealousy and fidelity into the equation.
Although it’s not particularly obvious from this production, Stoppard also uses an initial play-within-a-play scene to add the subject of adultery. Annie has replaced Henry’s former (and, needless to say, older) wife Charlotte (Sarah Ball). Charlotte has now taken up with nervy and desperately insecure architect Max. He is tellingly portrayed by Simon Scardifield, veteran of many an Ed Hall Propeller Shakespeare production.
Director Kate Saxon times the play’s fraught moments and awkward silences with expert precision, but doesn’t forget that the play is also a comedy. And she manages Stoppard’s last trump card triumphantly as we finally get to meet playwright Brodie (Sandy Batchelor). Jaw-droppingly rude and unpleasant, he makes all the rest of the characters seem like saints.
Until Saturday. 01865 305305 (www.oxfordplayhouse.com).