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24 September 2014
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May 2004
The Real Thing - The Old Fire Station
The Real Thing
A worrying time for Annie

Tom Stoppard's
The Real Thing

19th- 22ndMay

The Old Fire Station, Oxford
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By Andrea MacDonald

This self-assured student production of Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" shows us intellectualism with a heart. One of Stoppard's most sharp and pacy plays, it snaps out one-liners without them dominating the plot or lowering the tone. Centred on a playwright and his wife, it poses a series of questions: what is love, what is literature, and what distinguishes these things from pale parodies.

An ambitious premise and an interesting one for a student production, though all the actors play well above their age with success. Though Stoppard has been accused of writing with a "university wit", it is precisely this kind of clever wordy humour which lifts The Real Thing and makes it a joy to watch. Having seen previous productions I was intrigued by the way in which the stronger performance of Sarah Teacher as Annie shifted the weight of the play away from the romantic, pedantic figure of Henry (as played by Andy Mortimer) who sometimes lacked clear delivery.

Teacher can be singled out as giving a nuanced and moving performance but the whole cast performs with great energy and enjoyment. Yet it is really the script that is the star. Knowing and merciless, it plays with the audience's expectations in that Stoppardian way while dealing with those so human problems: how to love and be loved, how we treat fidelity and infidelity.

This play - most importantly - uplifts. Henry is unable to write a play about Annie, he doesn't know how to write love, finding his work to be "happiness expressed in banality and lust"; Stoppard however seems to be able to complete the feat that Henry cannot. As skilfully displayed in this well thought out production, love overcomes in the least banal of ways leaving me singing The Monkees "I'm a Believer" on the way home…

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