The Real Thing

published: Sun, 1-Oct-2006   |   updated: Tue, 21-Aug-2018

Max in The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard for the Dulwich Players at St. Barnabas Hall, Dulwich Village. Directed by Janet Rae. October 1991.

The Real Thing: Julian Bucknall as Max
A house of cards, in more ways than one

I love plays by Tom Stoppard. They are witty, erudite, full of meaning and life, and The Real Thing is no different. But much more this time: it makes you question what is real and what is imagined.

The play opens with Max building a house of cards, and, as we soon realize, he's waiting for someone. When she arrives, the cards fall down. The props person wanted to stitch together a whole bunch of cards to make building the thing easier, and I said, no way, it'll just look fake when it falls. Much better, I reasoned, to go out on stage as the audience were coming in, sit down at the table and build a real house of cards. And it worked really well. The audience would come in and they'd sit and watch me building a house of cards. Then the house lights would go down, the set lights would come up and we'd start the play. (The night of the last performance, the cards fell early, before the house lights had dimmed, and the whole audience heaved a huge sigh of regret. I had to rebuild it damn quickly.)

Max only appears in the first three scenes, but, boy, did I want to make those count. I think I did, especially in my third scene when I confront my wife with her infidelity.

(Major coincidence time: as I write this I'm listening to iTunes in random mode. It's just started playing The Real Thing by ABC, just one of the 10,000 songs I have ripped.)


MaxJulian Bucknall
CharlotteSusan Adam
HenryIan Rutter
AnnieJane Maynard
BillyKevin Edwards
DebbieJoanna Piesse
BrodieSimon Humphries


(Note: I'm afraid I have no idea where this was published or when. All I have is a photocopy in my papers, and the copy doesn't reveal its sources.)

"THE REAL THING," according to Annie, is so important as to transcend the consideration of "a couple of marriages and a child." But then to Annie, played with tremendous verve by Jane Maynard, passion is everything. Or is it the idea of passion that matters? As we get to know Annie better we don't love her less (as Henry says: "Love is loving someone at their worst") and neither, strangely, do we despise her for her superficiality. When Henry has ransacked her clothes she is disappointed ... "You should have put everything back - then it could be how it was." To Annie, it is Henry's loss of dignity that matters.

The longer one ponders a Stoppard play, the more convolutions appear - the more wheels-within-wheels whirr, and the more the characters loop and twist, constantly surprising us... Just like life, really. And finally, it is Henry, the intellectual writer, who surprises us the most. In feverish search for evidence of Annie's infidelity he is reduced to behaving like a character in one of his plays. And yes, he really does prefer Procal Harum to Bach. Ian Rutter as Henry handled the brilliant Stoppard dialogue impressively, and his character appeared to grow in stature throughout the play.

It is hard to believe that the Dulwich Players had only five weeks to prepare this production. Congratulations are due to the director, Jan Rae, and to the cast: Max was sympathetically played by Julian Bucknall, Susan Adam was a strong Charlotte, Joanne Piesse an ideal Debbie, and Simon Humphries was superb as the execrable Brodie. Kevin Edwards, as Billy, had a wonderful stage presence, but was hard to hear on the first night.

One suggestion though: would it be possible to have more information in the programme? It would have been particularly welcome to be told the titles and singers of the Sixties songs. And remember the days when theatre programmes told you where the scene was set? It was not difficult to fathom in this production, but as a general trend it seems to me regrettable.

Priscilla Waugh