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The Real Thing at Watford Palace Theatre****
Words are sacred, Tom Stoppard tells us in his cleverly crafted play The Real Thing. Starting rather than ending with a fine twist, this wittily-wrought treatise on love and loss takes us through the emotional landscape of two professional couples Annie and Max, who are both actors and Debbie and Harry, an actor and a writer.
When Harry and Annie are caught out having an affair, they realise their relationship is ready to reach another level but, as with any decision, there are unseen consequences.
Harry is a cultural pedant and the lynch pin around which the others gather – he tells us he is a 'real' writer and his opinions – both verbalised and on the page – are outspoken and unflinching.
Can anything knock him off his perch? Not the departure of his teenage daughter nor having to compromise his art to keep Annie happy. Therein lies the heart of the matter – what would he not do for Annie?
Written in 1982, the play carries a political message that still rings true as it concerns how jingoism can lead us to make sweeping judgements. English Touring Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse have assembled a strong cast who put the many, layered issues in the play into perspective. It is a very wordy production, but it is the strength of the actors emotions, gestures, feelings and fears that drive the piece.
Of the players Marianne Oldham (Annie) and Gerald Kyd (Harry) justifiably demand the greatest attention and lavish praise. Their voices, body language and poise, even their teeth convey an animalistic sensuality neatly juxtaposed with their reasoned communication skills. Words are sacred – and these performers make use of Mr Stoppard’s brilliant utterances so very, very well.
The Real Thing is at Watford Palace Theatre until Saturday, June 16. Details: 01923 225671