What makes love the real thing? How does one know when one person is “the one”, and when is exclusivity just “colonialisation”?
These questions aren’t quite answered in Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play The Real Thing, though they aren’t quite asked either. Like so much in this play, which evaluates honesty, loyalty, the function of words, the role of art, and the possibility of enduring love, no final resolution is posed. Actions and words that value commitment to meaning are ironised, yet the values, sincerely held, still seem to hold sway and, ultimately, to lead to a path more significant than one where values are trivialised. Stoppard’s play is surprisingly moral. Such a judgement can only emerge from a play directed, produced, and acted in a particular fashion.
Co-President of the Univ Players and director of The Real Thing, Will Yeldham, together with his crew and cast, has put together a spectacular performance that treads exactly the tightrope of tension threaded through Stoppard’s text. This year’s Univ Garden Play is hilarious, poignant, and utterly worth seeing.
The play revolves around Henry – played superbly by Seamus Lavan, someone (like his fellow actor Daisy Hayes) to watch out for—and Annie (Hayes) his lover, later his wife. The pair are having an affair, each married to partners they no longer care for. Annie feels a scornful kind of boredom at the love declared by her husband Max (John Dinneen) when he finds out about her betrayal. In a play filled with dissemblance, sometimes unintentional, sometimes deliberate, Max’s emotional, ineloquent response—tears, a shaky and clinging hug—feels heartfelt. Henry is a wordsmith, Annie is supremely confident, and Henry’s wife Charlotte (Cara Pacatti) is collected and capable: against this trio, and amidst the play’s sardonic treatment of him, Max’s distress is moving.
The Real Thing brings together the player, the played, the play and real life, all of which seep into the other. Henry and Annie, married, are suspicious of one another. They profess love, and feel distrust. The best moments of Stoppard’s script are Henry’s, a character who delights in his talent with words and yet nevertheless struggles to discern the realities that they reveal, along with the kinds of truths that he wishes to put them towards. One wonders if the difficulty he experiences with Annie is rooted not in her disloyalty but in his resentment at having, at her request, to ghost-write a terrible play. The life lived in art, whether as writer or actor, begins to converge with life lived in reality. Annie has a different sort of idealism: she is campaigning on behalf of a political prisoner. When we meet Brodie (Daniel de Lisle) at the end, he doesn’t seem to have been worth the bother. But his presence provides the shift in relation Annie and Henry need.
Music plays a splendid role in the production, and it feels joyfully apt to end with ‘I’m a Believer’, suggesting perhaps that belief in an enduring love is not misplaced after all. Still, Charlotte, along with her daughter Debbie (Maddy Walker) and Annie’s co-actor Billy (Freddy Waxman), and even Annie herself, have all suggested the opposite. Is Henry and Annie’s love the real thing? Who knows. But go and watch the play. You’ll laugh a lot, and maybe you’ll glimpse something about love. You’ll certainly learn about “putting words together”, and, mock this though Stoppard’s words ostensibly do, his play proves just how important that activity is.
The Real Thing is on at Univ College until Saturday 23rd May, performing at 7.30 (with a Saturday matinee at 2.45)