What we're trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might...travel... -- Henry
The Real Thing opened at the Strand Theatre, London, on November 16, 1982. The production was directed by Peter Wood and designed by Carl Toms, with lighting by William Bundy.
MAX -- Jeremy Clyde
CHARLOTTE -- Polly Adams
HENRY -- Roger Rees
ANNIE -- Felicity Kendal
BILLY -- Michael Thomas
DEBBIE -- Suzannna Hamilton
BRODIE -- Ian Oliver
The Real Thing opened in New York at the Plymouth Theatre, London, on January 5, 1984. The production was directed by Mike Nichols and designed by Tony Walton, with lighting by Tharon Musser.
MAX -- Kenneth Welsh
CHARLOTTE -- Christine Baranski
HENRY -- Jeremy Irons
ANNIE -- Glenn Close
BILLY -- Peter Gallagher
DEBBIE -- Cynthia Nixon
BRODIE -- Vyto Ruginia
Stoppard, Nichols, Baranski, Irons and Close all were awarded Tony Awards for their contributions to the production.
SYNOPSISThe Real Thing is about marriage and writing, emotional fidelity and intellectual integrity, high art and pop culture.
The play opens with Max, an English architect, sitting at home, drinking and building a house of cards while awaiting the return of his wife, Charlotte, from a trip to Switzerland. When she arrives, Max accuses her of adultery, based on the fact that he found her passport in her drawer at home. Even when he is most certain of her infidelity, Max is able to toss off literary quips and well-constructed bon mots.
The second scene reveals that what we've seen is actually a play within a play. Henry, the playwright, and his wife, Charlotte, are at home. Henry is trying to select eight "Desert Island Discs," songs he would like with him if stranded in the middle of the ocean. Part of him wants to choose something relatively highbrow, while another part admits that what he really loves is silly pop songs like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by the Righteous Brothers.
Max, the actor starring with Charlotte in Henry's play "House of Cards, arrives and gets caught in the middle of a marital spat. Charlotte is annoyed by her husband's latest play, which she considers contrived (and doesn't give her much to do as an actress). She says to Max, "You don't really think that if Henry caught me witth a lover, he'd sit around being witty about Rembrandt place mats? Like hell he would. He'd come apart like a pick-a-sticks. His sentence structure would go to pot, closely followed by his sphincter."
Max's wife Annie drops by, ostensibly on her way to a commitee meeting in support of a soldier unjustly jailed for vandalism. It quickly becomes clear that she and Henry are having an affair. While whipping up a batch of Hawaiiian dip, Max cuts his finger and stanches the flow of blood with Henry's handkerchief, which he promptly gives back to him.
In the third scene, Max confronts Annie with Henry's bloody handkerchief, found in her car. Annie admits that she's in love with Henry, and Max falls apart.
Scene Four portrays Henry and Annie in his new digs, after both their marriages have come apart. They read from August Strindberg's Miss Julie, and Henry muses that he can never write convincing romantic dialogue. "Loving and being loved is very unliterary. It's happiness expressed in banality and lust."
Annie mentions that one of her fellow actors has been flirting with her and then expresses annoyance at Henry's alleged interest in another actress. What really bothers her, however, is that Henry doesn't seem to care enough ever to be jealous.
Act Two resumes the action two years later. Before going off to perform in Glasgow, Annie is trying to interest Henry in a play written by Brodie, the young soldier serving time for vandalism and arson. He finds it boring and poorly written, and she tells him he's a snob. She thinks what Brodie has to say is important, considering how he's been treated, but Henry is appalled by the play's loutish language. He says, "I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem children will speak for you when you're dead." At which point, Annie rips from the typewriter Henry's script for a horrible sci-fi movie. She then declares that she wants to do Brodie's play, and shouldn't that be reason enough? Henry asks, "Why Brodie? Do you fancy him or what?", and instantly knows he's made a terrible mistake.
The next scene finds Annie on the train to Glasgow, flirting with Billie, a young actor performing with her in Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Billie also thinks Brodie's play is rubbish, but wants to do it in order to be with Annie. They end up proclaiming their attraction to each other in Jacobean blank verse.
Scene Seven introduces Debbie, Charlotte and Henry's seventeen-year-old daughter, about to go on the road with her musician boyfriend. Henry and Debbie discuss first love and marital fidelity. After she leaves, Charlotte and Henry reminisce about their marriage, and Henry learns that Charlotte had nine affairs during their time together. She chides him on his belief in commitment, saying, "You're committed. You don't have to prove anything. In fact you can afford a little neglect, isolate yourself when you want to. Underneath it's concrete for life. I'm a cow in some ways, but you're an idiot. Were an idiot." Henry replies that he would rather be an idiot than believe that there are no commitments, only bargains. "It's no trick loving somebody at their best. Love is loving them at their worst."
Henry is given the chance to prove it in Scene Nine, where he learns that Annie involved with another man. She returns from Glasgow to discover that he has ransacked her room in search of damning evidence. When she asks whether he's disclaimed his dignity, he says, "I don't believe in behaving well. I don't believe in debonair relationships. 'How's your lover today, Amanda?' 'In the pibk, Charles. How's yours?' I believe in mess, tears, self-abasement, loss of self-respect, nakedness. Not caring doesn't seem much different from not loving."
Somehow, though, Henry manages the difficult trick of "dignified cuckoldry," allowing Annie's affair to run its course.
In the final scene, we see the much-talked-about Brodie, now free from prison, watching a videotape of the teleplay Henry adapted from his original script. An ungracious lout, Brodie insults Henry for being "clever" with his play: "I lived it and put my guts in it, and you came along and wrote it clever. Not for me. For her. I'm not stupid." Eventually, Annie kicks Brodie out and pushes a bowl of dip in his face for good measure. The play ends with Henry receiving a call from Max, Annie's ex. Max is getting re-married, and Henry offers his congratulations, saying, "I'm delighted, Max. Isn't love wonderful?"
THE CRITICS SPEAK"...not only Stoppard's most moving play, but also the most bracing play that anyone has written about love and marriage in years." Frank Rich, The New York Times
"...terriffic...gusty and cheerfully intellectual...measurably funny, immeasurably clever and unexpectedly moving." Clive Barnes, New York Post
"The Real Thing brings romantic comedy back to Broadway...It marks the return of radiance -- verbal, intellectrual, emotional, theatrical -- to a Broadway too long in the dark." Richard Corliss, Time
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATIONThis is one play of Stoppard's that is really quite self-explanatory. Everything you need to enjoy it is pretty much right there on the stage/page. I don't see the point in linking to sites pertaining to the play's incidental elements (cricket, architecture, Strindberg, the Everly Brothers), but I can recommend the following, which deal with life in the theatre:
Theatre Central -- A wide-ranging compilation of theatre resources.
40695 accesses since November 17, 1996.