YORK Settlement Community Players return to York Theatre Royal’s Studio this Eastertide with Tom Stoppard’s typically smart and unsettling comedy drama The Real Thing.
Premiered in 1982 by the Pocklington School alumnus, this beguiling play of surprises and erudite wit follows Henry – possibly the sharpest playwright of his generation – who is married to actress Charlotte. Into the story Stoppard weaves a second couple, Max and wife Annie.
Henry, meanwhile, has written a play about a couple, who happen to be called Max and Charlotte – just to muddy the water – whose marriage is on the brink of collapse.
Soon they will discover that sometimes life imitates art in Stoppard’s world of actors and writers, wherein his exploration of love and infidelity is designed to make audiences question: “What is the real thing?”
Directing the Settlement Players for the first time, professional actor Jacob Ward says: “I’m very excited for an audience to interact with our modern-day version of this play. Its subject seems simple but, as we see through the eyes of various characters, we realise its complexity, and enjoy having our views on love and relationships broadened.
“The writing is nothing short of genius – it really is. Even after 20-plus times of reading, I’m still finding impossible connections and meaning. It’s a joy to direct and will be a thrill to watch: hilarious, heart-warming and thought-provoking all in one. We have a brilliant cast of actors to take you on the journey and a truly dedicated production team to bring the play to life.”
Ward’s cast will be led by Alan Park, chair of Theatre@41, Monkgate, as Henry and Alice May Melton, a stand-out in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s December 2022 production of A Nativity of York, playing Annie.
Victoria Delaney quickly follows up her turn as Kath in York Actors Collective’s debut production of Joe Orton’s farce Entertaining Mr Sloane with her role as Charlotte. Mike Hickman will be Max, Rebecca Harrison, Billy, and Hannah Waring, Debbie. Settlement chair – and Ward’s partner to boot – Livy Potter has taken over the part of Brodie at short notice, only weeks after starring in Gary Owen’s one-woman drama Iphigenia In Splott.
“I’d been in The Real Inspector Hound in 2006, directed by Laura Attridge, the opera director, who now lives in York, by the way,” says Jacob, recalling his first experience of performing in a Stoppard play in his Newcastle University days where he also co-directed new writing pieces and did likewise on scratch nights for Northern Stage and Alphabetti Theatre.
“I went to see The Real Thing with my dad, when I was at university. I was at a loose end that day and it just happened to be on at the Old Vic. We both really enjoyed it, but I remember having no idea of what happened in the play as it’s designed in every way to confuse the audience!
“So, when Settlement put out a call to direct this season’s production, I thought, ‘here’s an opportunity to do the play that confused the hell out of me, to see if I could make any more sense of it for the audience!”
Reading the script, Jacob realised “it’s not meant to be anything but confusing”. “Stoppard says it’s like a magic trick,” he says. “As a director, I’m thinking, ‘well, why has he made it so difficult?’, but that’s the point. You have all these characters reading something different into the same situation, mainly relating to their relationships.”
How has Jacob responded to the intricacies and layers of Stoppard’s script? “His writing has a uniqueness because so few writers are so good that every single stage direction, every piece of grammar, really matters.
“They’ve all been thought out so well that you know when you’ve hit the right note, as it’s intricately designed to perfection, so that ultimately it only works one way in my head – which is always a brilliant Stoppard way.
“Working with the cast, we have to keep playing with it, delving into it, to make sense of it, until suddenly it takes on a greater meaning when all the pieces fit together. Everyone in the cast has enjoyed doing the play because you get these Aha! Moments.”
What is real in The Real Thing, Jacob? “There are many real things that he’s talking about, in general and specific terms: love, relationships and sex as part of love,” he says.
“He’s also looking at how people put on facades; what’s real and what’s a front; what’s real writing, what isn’t; what’s real art, what isn’t.
“Then ‘class’ feeds into it too, how someone who’s not been educated to a certain level can live a full life but not articulate it, whereas someone else can articulate but may not know as much about life as they think they do.
“We don’t get answers with Stoppard, but lots of viewpoints to go away and discuss. I love how this play has a reason to exist and that reason is to talk about it afterwards.”
York Settlement Community Players in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, York Theatre Royal, April 5, 6 and 11 to 15, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm April 15 matinee. No performances from April 7 to 10. Post-show Q&A session on April 12. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
What is Jacob Ward directing next?
JACOB Ward is directing a script-in-hand reading of Old Stan, aka A Fool Fooled, by Marin Držić , “the Croatian Shakespeare”, at the York International Shakespeare Festival next month.
The performance of the 1551 comedy’s first ever translation into English will take place in the Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building, Humanities Research Centre, University of York on April 27 at 6pm, preceded by an introduction to the work of the greatest Slavic Renaissance playwright at 5pm.
In Old Stan, an old peasant is fooled by tales of false fairies whose magic supposedly restores youth. Držić’s delicious, sparkly play, written entirely in verse, was commissioned for a wedding feast of a Ragusan nobleman, and he joked that nobody could marry without him in Dubrovnik, his home city.
Translated for the first time in 471 years by Filip Krenus – again entirely in verse – the comedy follows Stan’s misadventures that we might associate with Bottom or even Falstaff in riotous proof of Držić’s uncanny kinship with Shakespeare.
Držić devotees will be travelling over from Dubrovnik to attend the performance. Box office: yorkshakes.co.uk.
Did you know?
JACOB Ward played the god Tyr in York Theatre Royal’s community production of Maureen Lennon’s The Coppergate Woman last August.
In York Shakespeare Project’s final production of its first full cycle of Shakespeare plays, he took the role of suitor Ferdinand in The Tempest on tour last September.
Copyright of The Press, York