Review: The Real Thing

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There is so much going on in the Arts Club/Belfry Theatre presentation of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing that even the slightest distraction can set the audience back five minutes.  But while there were a number of uneven moments and some distractions on opening night at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage, there is still much to like about the show.

While Stoppard may have originally set out to write a love story, The Real Thing is much more layered than a single dimension covering Stoppard’s obvious love for words and literature, and even a socio-political bent.

Jennifer Lines and Vincent Gale in The Real Thing. Photo by David Cooper.
Jennifer Lines and Vincent Gale in The Real Thing. Photo by David Cooper.

Widely thought to be semi-autobiographical, The Real Thing follows the lives and infidelities of Henry (Vincent Gale), Charlotte (Jennifer Clement), Max (Simon Bradley) and Annie (Jennifer Lines).

Henry is a playwright married to Charlotte just fresh from performing in one of her husband’s plays.  Following a visit from Max, who plays opposite Charlotte in Henry’s play, and his wife Annie, we quickly realize that while outward appearances indicate an animosity between Henry and Annie, all is not what it seems.

Fast forward a couple of years and we now see Henry married to Annie.  Annie continues to be involved with political activist, Brodie (Charlie Grant), and since Henry is unable to write about her, she asks him to ghost write Brodie’s play whose lack of writing ability is the antithesis to everything Henry stands for but he agrees and Annie sets off for Glasgow to be part of a production of Tis Pity She’s a Whore with the young actor Billy (also played by Charlie Grant).

It is upon Annie’s return to London that we find ourselves full circle as Henry must deal with the real-life infidelities of his wife.

There are definitely some great performances here amongst the cast with Vincent Gale’s Henry just the right amount of detachment that dissolves towards the end and Jennifer Lines’ Annie a good counter-point to Henry.  In fact, their opening scene in Act II was absolutely mesmerizing but did highlight the production’s unevenness.  Clement and Bradley also do some fine work here although Bradley’s Max embraced a number of layers as we see him move from his detached word-gymnastics in Henry’s play at the beginning to his near breakdown at discovering Annie’s infidelity.

Added to the mix of characters here are Henry and Charlotte’s daughter Debbie (Julie McIsaac) and young actor Billy/Private Brodie (Charlie Grant).  But while McIsaac manages to make the most of her short time on stage in a rather grown-up conversation with her father, Grant is simply not up to the task in either of his roles, adding another unfortunate distraction for the audience as they try to take in every word of Stoppard’s play.

Another distraction here is the accents from the various actors.  While I can be somewhat more forgiving than my usual theatre partner in this regard, I did find the accents faded in and out in some instances and so heavy in others making the final scene when Brodie makes an appearance almost completely lost.

Designer John Ferguson’s revolving set works well as it effortlessly glides through the various locales but the real highlight has to be the soundtrack.  And in a nod to the music, Ferguson cleverly has made the revolving stage into a large record (albeit square) complete with actors as the phonograph pin.

Interestingly, The Real Thing was said to be Stoppard’s response to the criticism that he was emotionally detached and while in the end Henry realizes that feelings can sometimes be mightier than the word, it is the journey Stoppard takes us on that keeps us engaged despite its unevenness.

The Real Thing continues at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through April 4th.

Visit the Arts Club website for tickets and information.

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