(Benedict Nightingale’s article appeared in the Times of London 4/22.)

The Real Thing at The Old Vic, SE1

“Poor Tom’s a-cold,” cries the disguised Edgar in King Lear, speaking of himself but, I once felt, delivering a highly anachronistic critique of Tom Stoppard. The ideas fizzed. The wit scintillated. Tom turned imaginative somersaults. We admired the intellectual energy, but where was the visceral passion? We loved Stoppard’s work — but where was, well, love?

Then came his 1982 Real Thing, and suddenly Tom was a-warm and, with the moving Arcadia and Invention of Love to follow, even a-hot. The play opens with what might almost be Stoppard’s parody of his own work at its most brilliantly frivolous. A husband welcomes his wife home from what isn’t the trip to Geneva she has pretended. “How’s Franc?” he asks. “Frank who?” she replies. “The Swiss franc,” he explains, and, as she flounders, goes on to expose her adultery, something that seems mainly to amuse him.


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