In Search of The Real Thing

I took myself to the theatre yesterday to see Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a brilliant production; the script has some truly beautiful lines and they’re played with sincere depth. The play may have a complicated architecture and layers of artifice - plays within the play and scenes within a scene - but the overall vision is clear-eyed and direct. It strikes straight at your heart. Henry’s speech about the sanctity of words had me holding my breath; I don’t know if I’ve ever heard how I feel about writing so accurately articulated. I saw myself in those lines and in Henry’s absolute romanticism.

I admire actors because of the talent they have to bring words to life with a great measure of sincerity. It’s such a talent, to balance all the delicacy of the written word and make it seem, on stage, like it’s from the heart. Laurence Fox is excellent in the role of Henry because whether he’s talking about words, love, pop music or a cricket bat, he seems so real. The almost hopeless romantic streak of the playwright is revealed slowly, and shows tenderness underneath the brilliant wit.

Both Henry’s ex-wife Charlotte and his new wife Annie are also played with sensitivity and grit; the realness and pragmatism of these women are what shines a light on Henry’s romanticism. They are complex, sympathetic and brilliantly played by Rebecca Johnson and Flora Spencer-Longhurst. Henry doesn’t inhabit a world of fiction where women swoon into a man’s arms, or act the villain and yet he loves like a courtly hero, in an absolute sense. It is to Fox’s credit that Henry comes across in this way – he has a streak of naiveté a mile wide - without losing any of the character’s intelligence or humour.

I don’t know why I went on my own to see this play other than because it felt right. Perhaps I, too, am a hopeless romantic and would rather go it alone than see it with anyone who wasn’t “my chap” but I don’t think it’s just that. I’ve long reconciled myself with the idea of being single. I’m too romantic to compromise, too incompetent at dating and nowhere near pretty enough to compensate for either failing. That’s OK. I didn’t go to the theatre alone to weep into my gin and tonic, nor because I wouldn’t be able to find anyone to go with me. I went alone because words are one of my true loves, and I wanted to be with them.

I’ve been feeling uncertain about my own writing - a little lost, out of place or left behind by peers, frustrated that I can’t get anywhere, not really sure where I want to get. So many things competing in my head, no wonder I’m feeling uncertain. Yesterday reminded me that I should hold true to my love of words, and write in all sincerity. Maybe I needed to be alone to see that. Maybe that’s why I so admire talented actors – when they bring words to life, something in me comes alive too.