A play by Tom Stoppard, a play about playwriting and adultery and truth. It is one of his best and most complex.

Henry is a playwright, and Charlotte his wife is acting in his latest play, which is about adultery. She is starring with Max, whose wife Annie is also an actor, who is committing adultery with Henry.

Annie is on a committee for justice for Brodie, whom she met on a train. He committed arson at the Cenotaph, then he got hammered by an emotional backlash, a phrase which makes Henry wince in pain as an artist with words. Now Brodie is writing a play too, to protest his innocence, or at least to get a sympathetic break, but it's a very very bad play, so Annie enlists the help of Henry, a real writer, to help get his message across. But he can't.

Because it's balls. Mary's part is the least of it -- it's merely ham-fisted. But when he gets into his stride, or rather his lurch, announcing every stale revelation of the newly enlightened, like stout Cortez coming upon the Pacific -- war is profits, politicians are puppets, Parliament is a farce, justice is a fraud, property is theft... It's all here: the Stock Exchange, the arms dealers, the press barons... You can't fool Brodie -- patriotism is propaganda, religion is a con trick, royalty is an anachronism... Pages and pages of it. It's like being run over very slowly by a travelling freak show of favourite simpletons, the india rubber pedagogue, the midget intellectual, the human panacea...
(I have often wondered whether Stoppard specifically had David Hare in mind in that passage.) And amid all this there is pain, the pain of love, the pain of betrayal, the pain of being willing to give up everything for the one you love including your dignity. All the sides in the arguments get their turn and no-one comes out entirely right or wrong. Ultimately Stoppard's sympathies seem to just favour Henry the writer and romantic, but you can't really call it.

The Real Thing was premièred on 16 November 1982 at the Strand Theatre, London, with Felicity Kendal as Annie. A recent (2000) revival starred Jennifer Ehle as Annie: an odd dissociation, I found, since she was very very good, but I was imbued with constant reading of the playscript with Felicity Kendal in mind; yet Ehle was also perfect for the part.