The great Russian playwright, Anton Checkov, said – There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man someone standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people. That image came into my mind at Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Thing at the Gate Theatre. This play is famous for a long speech about the nature of a cricket bat and that playwrights are trying to write cricket bats.

This play is about love and happiness, and how do you know when it is the real thing. Reality is shadowy in theatre and this is a play within a play that also has a playwright as its central character who is having an affair with a political activist behind the back of his actress wife who is in a play about marital betrayal and what is real love etc.

Thee is also a weak subplot about a young supposed political activist who writes a play and the playwright Henry (who seems to be an aspect of Stoppard) helps turn into a move.

The writing is verbally clever and much admired by the theatrical chattering audiences and this production by Alan Stanford carries a lot of intellectual baggage that slows down the action despite a wonderful onstage revolve what speeds up the many scene changes.

By the end the audience are fooled by the images of real or unreal and love is still a mystery that will not always make us happy. The man with the cricket bat or the man with the hammer will show that trouble will come like Checkov’s disease, poverty, losses and no one will see or hear just as now the contented man neither sees nor hears others.

Stephen Brennan was excellent as the thoughtful playwright, Henry. Fiona Bell impressed as Charlotte, the wronged wife and Andrea Irvine was sexy and there was a scene where in a group of four she asked Henry to touch her, to touch her anywhere and a shiver went through me.