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.

Album: The Real Thing

Band: Faith No More

Date: 1989

Label: Slash/Reprise



  1. From Out Of Nowhere
  2. Epic
  3. Falling To Pieces
  4. Surprise! You're Dead!
  5. Zombie Eaters
  6. The Real Thing
  7. Underwater Love
  8. The Morning After
  9. Woodpecker From Mars (instrumental)
  10. War Pigs (cover of Black Sabbath)
  11. Edge Of The World

Music this good isn't supposed to be popular.

Faith No More had been around for a while by the time The Real Thing was recorded in 1989. They were good musicians. They'd recorded some pretty good albums. Then they found Mike Patton.

Mike Patton is not a normal singer. Mike Patton is not a normal human being. He is a freak of nature, a bizarre genius whose vocal cords can produce a broader spectrum of sounds than a good synthesizer. He only used a few on this recording, but his impact on the band was still great enough to make them famous overnight.

Most reviews of The Real Thing describe it as a blend of heavy metal and hip-hop. I suppose if you're only really paying attention to the vocals, you might get that impression. Patton's voice is used here primarily for high-register singing (think Iron Maiden-style metal) and rapid-fire spitting-out of wards (rapping), though he does both far better than the average practitioner of either. Yes, The Real Thing is full of humongous metal riffs, and it's also got plenty of funk and hip-hop grooves. But it's also got jazz and samba percussion rhythms, inventive guitar and synth work to rival the best prog rock, and a wonderfully dynamic compositional style. Most of this was probably lost on the average MTV viewer, who learned of the band and the album from the constant airing of the video to Epic. It seems to be one of those extraodinarily rare records that you can naively enjoy when you're a kid and still be able to listen to with a straight face after you grow up.

Shortly following is my favorite line from the play, The Real Thing. It is delivered by Henry, a writer. It's delivered to Annie, an actress (slightly more background can be found in Gritchka's excellent write-up above). The two of them are arguing over the value of writing, or rather how the value of writing should be determined. Annie has been claiming that writing is subjective, and that people (specifically Henry) shouldn't go around claiming works are inherently good or bad. She's pointed out that the rules of writing were developed in the halls of academia, and that real people shouldn't necessary be bound by them. This is Henry's response:

Shut up and listen. 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 ... (He clucks his tongue again and picks up the script.) Now, what we've got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting 'Ouch!' with your hands stuck into your armpits. (Indicating the cricket bat.) This isn't better because someone says it's better, or because there's a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It's better because it's better...

The point here, of course, is that a play is a tool. You don't judge tools by some sort of arbitrary or subjective standard. You judge tools based on how well they get the job done. The job of a play might be to inform, entertain, or persuade (in the case of Brodie's play, to take action); a well written play will do its job better.

The scene interesting for many other reasons as well, but to apprecate them all you really need to go see it. As soon as possible, it's quite good.

A science fiction short story by Carolyn Ives Gilman, featured in the 19th Annual "Year's Best Science Fiction".

The plot (without giving too much away) is that a female scientist named Sage is copied down onto a disk (so to speak), encoded onto a beam of light, and sent off to a black hole. The idea is that the beam will twist around and come back 45 years later, an effective one-way time travel. Se finds that a company named Metameme has patented the human genome, and thus owns her. And Disney makes action figures along the way.

A line from the book:

He checked another screen. "Endorsement bonds are rolling in nicely. Disney and ATW are duking it out for rights to the action figures, the biopic, and the immersion game. The plastic surgeons are waiting for specs on her face." He peered through wispy bangs at Sage. "Thank god they didn't send some bald guy with bad teeth."

Source: 19th Annual "The Year's Best Science Fiction"

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