Home. Introduction. News. Career. One Man shows. Books. Reviews. Articles. Contact.

The Real Thing

Punch, December 1984

I first saw Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing’ early in 1983 and pretty tacky it was. It opened in November 1982. One of the first cast told me that the actors were desperate for Peter Wood to come back and tighten up his production. The actors have recently changed again. Michael Pennington has taken over the lead and Mr Wood, plainly, has redirected the new cast. The result has to be the sharpest, most intelligent evening in the West End.

The play dazzles with the expected Stoppard aphorisms and other verbal ingenuities, and only the famous cricket bat speech seems, in Mr Pennington’s performance, not to be fully integrated. It comes across as a self-conscious anthology piece, with the actor wielding the willow about the stage like a ballet dancer throwing a ballerina; most alarming. Otherwise, he gives a performance of marvellously varied vocal range as a successful playwright who, until almost the play’s end, cannot cope emotionally with the world of flesh-and-blood anything like as honestly as he can in his fictions.

A life is illumined from within. How rarely on stage does a character grow in front of our eyes. Mr Pennington is sensitively supported by Lucy Gutteridge, Alister Cameron and Caroline Hutchison. The real thing? Is it a love that lasts, or simply a commitment to react honestly, day-by-day? Is it living or creating life with a typewriter? By the play’s conclusion, Mr Stoppard ensures that you are no longer utterly convinced in your prejudices.

Return to The Real Thing