We went to see The Real Thing last night at the Old Vic (me excitedly refreshing the liveblogging of the debate through the interval). I thought it brilliant, very raw, funny of course, thought provoking.
What tends to wind me up about the Stoppards I’ve seen – and writers like Iris Murdoch – is that they never seem to escape their own little world. “I wonder what a philandering playwright married to an actress would think at this point” does not seem to be raising the bar much. Ditto for Oxford philosophers and old Iris. But the thoughts they have – and their language – make the failing seem trivial.
My favourite scene was the one with the cricket bat, where Stoppard/Henry makes a powerful case for, well, intellectual snobbery and entry barriers stopping just anyone from being able to get published. He compares perfect writing to the bat:
This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… (He clucks his tongue to make the noise.) What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might … travel …
But what I actually loved most was the accurate viciousness with which he mocks Brodie’s earnest, right-on, lefty diatribe of a play:
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…
Nowadays, of course, Brodie would have a blog. How many words has Stoppard written in 50 years? How many do we put down in a year? I ought to end this post with a plaintive cry for restraint, but I am already hypocrite enough.