Seldom does a play’s title sum up what I feel about it, but this genuinely was the real thing, real theatre of the highest standard, and hats off to Ambassadors Theatre Group for touring a production as good as this which quite clearly does not have the bums on seats pulling power of a show that can brandish a star name. What we got instead were star performances, each role played with disarming realism, despite the fact that Stoppard’s language is often far from realistic. His ability to play with words, with phrasing and verbal trickery is second to none, and although in the past I have found it too clever by half, last night I was mesmerised by his eloquent arguments, his twisting and turning of one’s perception of what was going on.
First performed in 1982, it has lost none of its poignancy. The questioning of the value of fidelity and of love is as fascinating 30 years on as it was then (yes I saw it then), and the timeless setting gives no foothold for dismissing this as a period piece.
The cast are almost uniformly excellent, Simon Scarfield as Max is particularly moving, Sarah Ball as Charlotte tough yet brittle and Gerald Kid as Henry has perfectly balanced arrogance with fragility. But it is Marianne Oldham who impresses most with a performance that is flawless, compelling and at times scarily real. Oh that every week we had a play as well crafted by all is The Real Thing.
Theatre Royal Brighton, 20 June 2012