The Real Thing/Malvern Theatres

TOM Stoppard said in an interview that he saw no point in trying to update this play because things like love and friendship don’t really change.

Maybe that’s right… but social perceptions most certainly do.

For example, sulky teenager Debbie (Venice Van Someren) brags how she was deflowered by her Latin teacher.

Excuse me? All right, Harvey Weinstein back in the early 1980s was barely a twinkle in a starlet’s eye, but – as we now know only too well – such behaviour these days routinely trigger tsunamis of outrage.

Not that it makes any difference to your Malvern audience of course, who predictably cackled with glee at the thought of a bit of amo, amas, amat in the school stockroom.

Laurence Fox acquits himself with great style as playwright Henry, who is having an affair with Annie (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) at the same time as her actor husband Max (Adam Jackson-Smith) is being fictionally betrayed by Henry’s real-life wife Charlotte (Rebecca Johnson).

So. Is this a case of life imitating artfulness? Not really, because such is the overwhelming intensity of Stoppard’s relentless verbal cleverness that every drop of real feeling is squeezed out before being allowed to have any chance of taking hold.

The trouble with this emotionally-arid dialogue is that Stoppard seems to think he is William Shakespeare and writing for the Globe Theatre circa 1598, rather than the present day.

Where is the pain, anger and choking jealousy that always follows when the cheated confronts the cheat? Since when did either of the parties then deliver some front-room equivalent of the Gettysburg Address?

I’d rather listen to a country and western heartbreak song. At least the language aims for the heart rather than the brain.

Fox – wearing odd socks for some unfathomable reason - is a fabulous actor but he has to mobilise all his resources to deal with this script. And it’s such a pity that the title of the piece in no way reflects the actuality. It runs until Saturday (October 21).

John Phillpott