Company of Ten prove they’ve got the Real Thing

The Real Thing

The Real Thing - Credit: Archant

Arguably Britain’s greatest living playwright, Tom Stoppard is not generally renowned for his humour.

But The Real Thing, currently being performed by the Company of Ten at the Abbey Theatre, is extremely funny in parts leaving the audience in no doubt that director Andy Mills wanted to bring out the comedy incorporated in Stoppard’s ubiquitous word play.

And this is a very approachable play, unlike some Stoppard which can be unfathomable, with the bonus that the central figure of playwright Henry is widely believed to be autobiographical.

The Real Thing is basically the tale of an affair but in true Stoppard fashion, it plays with words throughout. What the audience is left to guess is whether The Real Thing of the title applies to the power of love or the power of words.

For in both Henry’s affair with Annie and his ghost-writing of her protegee Brodie’s play, there is pain and passion. And it could be argued that the pain Henry suffers when he thinks Annie is having an affair with fellow actor Billy is just as great as that he feels for Brodie’s stilted prose.

Andy Mills is clearly passionate about The Real Thing and the way in which love and words can be at once both comic and sad. Having Mark Waghorn in the definitive role of Henry is a major coup for like the director, he clearly identifies with Stoppard’s character and his diction is such that the writer’s word play is a delight.

His quips about Desert Island Discs, what would have happened had Beethoven died in a plane crash and his criticism of Bach for copying from Procol Harum are great fun and put over with true comic timing - never an easy task.

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The worthy Annie is played by Sarah Priddy, a newcomer to the Company of Ten, who tackles the role with relish and provides a fine foil for Henry.

Kathryn Rogers is in good form as Charlotte, Henry’s first wife, who pricks the playwright’s pomposity at every turn while David Powell’s Max, who opens the play, could claim to have the best lines and makes excellent use of them.

Rosie Bauer takes the role of Henry and Charlotte’s daughter Debbie and while the late introduction of her character does little for the plot or the direction of the play, she is extremely good in the role.

Whether or not Henry is really Stoppard himself and Annie, the actress Felicity Kendall with whom he had an affair, The Real Thing gives a different perspective on Stoppard’s canon and shows that behind the clever words there is a comedian clawing his way out.

The Real Thing can be seen at 8pm tonight (4) and on Saturday but a word of warning - the Abbey Theatre was practically full on Saturday night so this is a play which appeals to St Albans’ audiences. Any remaining tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or click here.