Directed by Alice Livingstone
542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 6 October – 7 November
In a society obsessed with ameliorated semblances of reality through an infatuation with social media and the development of an online image, discussion of truth and artifice continues to be relevant. The desire for a better version of reality seeps into our daily relationships, be those romantic, familial or friendships – and influences our treatment of those around us. Words are powerful, and have the potential to take on significant meaning, which becomes self-apparent in New Theatre’s The Real Thing, both in its message and subsequent effect on audiences. Alice Livingstone’s direction of an excellent cast prompts the audience to consider what our embracing or disguising of ‘The Real Thing’ in sex, relationships, art and various other aspects of life says about us.
The majority of the play focuses on the relationship between Henry, a writer played by Christopher Tomkinson, and Annie, played by Ainslie McGlynn, an actor and member of a committee to free Brodie, a political prisoner. The play also features Henry’s ex-wife Charlotte, played by Emily Weare and Annie’s ex-husband Max, played by Peter Eyers. Tom Stoppard employs the play-within-a-play device to explore the notion of reality and its associated facades. While the transition between the play and the ‘real’ storyline requires some adjustment for the audience, I imagine this is Stoppard’s desired effect. At first you believe unswervingly in the truth before you, only for this illusion to be revealed as artifice, forcing you to face the actual reality. The play-within-a-play is written by Henry and features Charlotte and Max. Both Weare and Eyers show exquisite distinction between their roles, which serves to emphasise the disconnect between apparent and actual reality, as well as showcase their flexibility as actors.
A groovy soundtrack underpins the work and gives amusing jest to Henry’s desire to be considered an elite intellectual, in spite of his taste in peppy pop music. As the story pushes onwards, we see sincerity in McGlynn’s performance as the temptation of infidelity creeps in and she struggles to cause pain to people she cares dearly for in different ways. Similarly, as the events in Henry’s writing occur self-reflexively in his own life, Tomkinson’s performance highlights the grappling with one’s ability to be honest in relationships and give way to vulnerability. Henry’s conversation with his daughter Debbie, played by Charlotte Hazard, came forth with a wonderful contrast between young and more mature perspectives of sex and the implications for relationships.
The Real Thing’s exploration of truth and artifice highlights evidence of these notions in all the familiar nooks and crannies of life. Livingstone’s production shares with the audience the formation, development, struggles and breakdown of relationships, as well as the lengths we can go to in order to hold onto the people we care about. The concept of entering the theatre, an inherently artificial environment, to explore truth is an irony…it seems that artifice can hold profound meaning after all.