Review: The Real Thing, American Airlines Theatre

“Half as long as Das Kapital and only twice as funny”

Arcadia aside, it does appear I have my Stoppard issues but in the running theme of my Broadway booking, (relative) star casting trumped common sense. In this case, it was Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon that tempted me (plus Ewan McGregor and Ronan Raftery) along to this most lauded of his plays. And whilst I was glad of the opportunity to see this company, and be suitably impressed by both Gyllenhaal and Nixon, I couldn’t help but feel that I just don’t get the thing about The Real Thing.

>Seeing it for the second time, the sucker punch of the metatheatrics is necessarily lessened. Knowing the layers of the Russian dolls are just that didn’t really bring anything new for me in my feeling for the play (or the play-within-the-play, or etc etc) and I think Sam Gold’s production is mostly responsible for that with a whole lot of theatrical fussiness that adds bulk but not genuine substance – musical interludes drag, David Zimm’s set distracts with its open blandness, so much of it just feels flat.

Which in turn throw focus on the writing and for all the trumpeting of Stoppard’s astuteness about matters of love and betrayal and art and life, it’s not immediately apparent to me that he’s saying very much that is particularly insightful. Play-acting is play-acting and real life is better – it ain’t rocket science but there’s a whole lot of energy being expended here to say not a whole deal more than that as far as I can see.

Gyllenhaal felt like the most effective performer here as Annie but tellingly, it was with her actions rather than her words that she really resonated – bringing more to the role than Stoppard allowed as he turns the spotlight time and time again onto Henry, made somewhat likeable by McGregor’s performance but overall lacking in the something profound that would truly engage me. A curiously soulless evening all told.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Joseph Marzullo
Booking until 4th January

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