The Real Thing

Dates and Venue 5 March – 4 April 2009 at 8pm (matinees on Wed & Sat at 2pm) | Granville Island Stage

Director Michael Shamata Set Design John Ferguson Lighting Steven Hawkins Stage Manager Caryn Fehr

Reviewer Susan Peake

The eminent British playwright, Tom Stoppard, displays his witty linguistic expertise in this verbose play-within-a-play currently gracing the stage on Granville Island. A full house was present on Wednesday night, and we had our work cut out for us as we attempted to process the clever, fast-paced verbal exchanges between the superb cast members.

Vincent Gale, as Henry, has the lion’s share of the discourse, and I doubt a lesser talent could have handled the onerous task with such ease. Henry is a somewhat arrogant playwright, who, while brilliant at verbal debates, falls short in matters of love. We soon learn that he, while married to Charlotte (played by Jennifer Clement, his real-life wife) is having an affair with Annie (Jennifer Lines). The cat is soon let out of the proverbial bag, and next we find Henry wedded to his lover. And, oh what a tangled web we weave – as Henry’s relationship with Annie goes south, and he must then wrestle with the knowledge that she has taken a young lover.

Both Jennifers deliver excellent performances as they display their strong personalities and their personal passions, which are most often at odds with Henry’s. A good laugh erupts from the audience with the exchange, “I’m sorry”…. “for what”…. “I don’t know.” Obviously, these words hit a familiar chord with many couples in the audience.

Brilliant performances, although short, were given by Simon Bradbury (Max), Julie McIsaac (Debbie) and Charlie Gallant (Billy). One wonders if a more even distribution of ‘air time’ might have allowed these characters to develop and thus allowed poor Henry a reprieve from his often seemingly endless barbed banter.

The stage was, although clean and sophisticated, slightly too minimalist and banal for my liking. Perhaps a little colour could have been used to the audience’s advantage. In fact, for those of us sitting well in the back, it was initially challenging to determine if it were Charlotte or Annie on the stage, as both look similar enough from a distance to garner confusion, especially against a pale backdrop.

Don’t get me wrong - The Real Thing is highly entertaining; a first-class production with a stellar cast. Just be sure to bring a sharp mind with you so you don’t miss too much of Stoppard’s genius word play

© 2009 Susan Peake