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Conti provides plenty of food for thought



Review by David Munro

WORDS! Words! Words! bewailed Miss Doolittle in My Fair Lady. What she would have made of The Real Thing I shudder to think.

For that is what this play is - a coruscating cascade of words used by playwright Tom Stoppard to ventilate his feelings on love, sacred and profane, plays, pure and impure, plus the use of words themselves. It is a cerebral and yet very funny play.

I will not attempt to describe the plot. Suffice it to say that the principal character, Henry, leaves his wife in search of love – the real thing.

In his quest, the characters in the play group and re-group until it is very hard to tell fact from fiction. Stoppard plays verbal and dramatic tricks with a consummate skill and at times with an audacity which leaves the audience breathless. This is not an easy play but it is a rewarding one.

What it would have been like with a lesser cast I would not care to hazard a guess. As it is, Tom Conti and his supporting team give their author good value and the audience a superb run for their money.

Tim Pigott-Smith and his designer, Bob Bailey, have set the action in a large box-like set which enables the characters to come and go as they please and even accommodates a railway carriage when called upon to do so. It creates a sort of Alice in Wonderland surrealism which suits the mood of the play to a “T”.

I find this a very difficult play to review. You have to see it to get its flavour - more than once I suspect.

The ads describe it as a 'polished and sophisticated comedy' and for once I must agree with them. It is however more than that, it takes a serious and profound view of life and art and their inter-relationships even while playing verbal games with them.

The cast never put a foot wrong. Conti sails through the evening firing verbal broadsides with a deadly aplomb.

Nina Young, Elizabeth Payne and Annabel Scholey give the women in the piece a delightful feminine savagery and wit and are superb foils to Mr Conti’s questing soul.

Malcolm Stoddard, Tom Frederic and Steven Cree hold their own as the deceived and put-upon males in Mr Stoddard’s equation of life.

Altogether this adds up to an evening of theatre which, even though you may not always understand or even agree with all the authors views on life, love and literature, you will come away from with a lot to think about – which is clearly what Mr Stoppard intended.

The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Tim Pigott-Smith.
Designer – Bob Bailey.
Lighting – Leonard Tucker.
Sound – David Tinson.
Music by Jonathan Goldstein.
CAST: Tom Conti; Malcolm Stoddard; Elizabeth Payne; Tom Frederic; Annabel Scholey; Steven Cree.

Presented by Tom Kinnimount, Laurence Myers, Tom Conti and Theatre Royal Bath Productions.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Sept 26 – Sat, Oct 1, 2005
Evenings 7.45pm. Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm.
Box Office:- 0870 060 6651.

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