The Real Thing, King's Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Theatre Royal Bath Productions
Director Stephen Unwin. Designer Jonathan Fensom. Lighting Designer Tim Mascall. Sound Designer John Leonard. Associate Director Lisa Blair. Assistant Director Sarah Meadows.
Laurence Fox (Henry) Flora Spencer-Longhurst (Annie) Rebecca Johnson (Charlotte) Adam Jackson-Smith (Max) Kit Young (Billy) Venice Van Someren (Debbie) Santino Smith (Brodie)
Running time

For a play first performed in 1982, The Real Thing is pretty much timeless. Where there is love there will be marriage, where there is art there will be passion. Tom Stoppard’s drama about love, life and art returns to the 2017 stage triumphant.

It is not difficult to see why this play has received an impressive collection of awards including two Tonys and six ‘Best Play’/’Best Revival’ awards. It is also unsurprising that actors have done so well critically with such an eloquent script to feed them, and this production is no exception as far as acting nobility is concerned.

The story follows Henry (Laurence Fox) a playwright, and his closest circle; Charlotte (Rebecca Johnson) his wife, Max (Adam Jackson-Smith) and his wife Annie (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), both actors and their close friends. Almost immediately we discover that Henry and Annie are having an affair; rather ungallant of them it would seem, but as time goes on it appears that their relationship is in fact ‘the real thing’ and so their love endures.

It is not all plain sailing however, and both love and patience are tested by Henry and Annie’s professions and passions. Real things must be stretched and used to know their strength, and love is no exception. Politics and art are also brought into the spotlight and fought over, relationships are exposed and people change.

Stoppard (and by default, Henry) has a way with words, and both are deliciously witty. The eloquence with which Henry argues makes the incomprehensible articulate, and gives a voice to feelings we cannot talk about; as he says, ‘words are [sacred]. They deserve respect.’

Laurence Fox is exquisite as the indomitable and steadfast Henry, matched to perfection by Flora Spencer-Longhurst’s feisty and passionate Annie. What is refreshing about this coupling is that they are both honest with themselves, if not always with each other, and it is this self-respect for their own feelings that prevents a clichéd conclusion.

The Real Thing does not only address real love. It speaks of real life and real art, and what they mean to real people. It is a discussion about people and captures the fine line between art and artistry. It is a rare thing to remind your audience of their own emotions.

The production is sleek and classy and is only dated by the interior design and the allusions to the importance of Desert Island Discs. Ignoring a couple of teething problems with regards to the structural integrity of the set, it is a handsome production that settles into the decadence of the King’s stage with the perfect amount of audacity and charm.

Every element is stylish, every hair in place; Stoppard plays are food for his audience, and with this production we are treated to haute cuisine.

Runs until Saturday 28th October. Tickets £18-£31.50