The Real Thing, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Tuesday, June 19, to Saturday, June 23 (From The Argus)
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The Real Thing, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Tuesday, June 19, to Saturday, June 23
The Real Thing is widely regarded as Tom Stoppard’s most accessible work. Not only because it is his sole play that deals with love but also because the intellectual games are less lofty than his usual tricks, which leave some drooling and others cold.
No surprise, then, that after being performed at London’s Old Vic less than two years ago, there is another new production of the 1982 play in theatres.
Its director, Kate Saxon, who took the reins for English Touring Theatre’s (ETT) joint production with West Yorkshire Playhouse, says she has never seen another staging, only ever read the book.
“For me, as a director, the most important thing is serving the text. Obviously directors need to bring something new, otherwise there is no point in doing plays – you might as well just watch a revival of the original production all the time.
“So of course productions are new in the way you choose to cast them and your taste in actors. One thing that matters very much to me as a director is truth and journeys and empathising and connecting to emotional lives on stage.”
She wants the actors to make us connect and care about the characters and their relationships, “so that it is more than witty badinage. It’s actually people’s hearts and souls being bared there, and we can laugh at the badinage and feel impressed by the witticisms, but we also need to connect to them on a deeper level.”
It is 30 years since Stoppard penned the play. He also has an adaptation of Parade’s End with Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall airing later this year, as well as a film adaptation of Anna Karenina starring Jude Law and Keira Knightley.
Saxon says that is mere coincidence. She has been waiting for the rights to become available, having been interested in working on the tale of bourgeois adultery for some time.
Once Rachel Tackley of ETT called to say they had the green light, Saxon got in touch with Stoppard himself.
“He was available if I had queries. We met up before I started rehearsals.
“I wanted to know if he felt there were mistakes in previous productions, if there were pitfalls the text could lead you into.
“I had feelings about the characters and how I perceived the story and I wanted to make sure I was receiving it in the same way he intended it.
“He is such a clever man and that comes through in his writing. I thought of myself and the actors having to come up to his level, but that is exciting and felt like a challenge to unearth his insights.”
The Real Thing opens with the world of architect Max (Simon Scardifield) falling apart as he discovers wife Charlotte (Sarah Ball) has been playing away.
Henry (Gerald Kyd), a successful playwright, who eschews his wife for the ebullient Annie (Marianne Oldham), is introduced using some clever Stoppard structuring.
With a dramatist and a political activist in the cast, the themes go well beyond the vagaries of love.
And though written in 1982, Stoppard did not want it to be tied to a particular time.
“He has brilliantly written a very universal play that for my money has not aged at all.
“He makes no references in the play that pinpoint you to 1982.
“However, Simon Higlett [the designer] and I decided we did want to set it then, but we didn’t want to do it so it was glaringly in your face.
“I think sometimes, particularly with the early 1980s because we have such connotations of the style of that period, it can shut audiences out.”
There will be no gasping, “Oh my God, I wore that?”, or younger viewers feeling lost because they don’t remember that period.
“In terms of furniture and costume we have chosen things from the period that are fashionable again now, which is handy because a lot of early 1980s stuff is in at the moment. So it is set in the period but it doesn’t shout at you.”
Saxon felt because Annie and Brodie (Sandy Batchelor) go on an anti-nuclear demo and Henry is meant to have dated music tastes, from the 1960s and 1970s, it had to be set in 1982.
“There are a couple of things that made me want to set it in that period, but I think it is universal in that nothing anyone is talking about or dealing with has changed.”
* 7.45pm, Thurs and Sat matinees 2.30pm, £12 to £27. Call 0844 8717650