Review: The Truth Reveals Web Of Lies

The Truth, Menier Chocolate Factory ★★★★☆

By Neil Dowden Last edited 99 months ago

Last Updated 19 March 2016

Review: The Truth Reveals Web Of Lies The Truth, Menier Chocolate Factory 4
Frances O'Connor (Alice) and Alexander Hanson (Michel). Photo: Marc Brenner

Florian Zeller is fast becoming the new Yasmina Reza for British audiences appreciative of smart, concise dissections of middle-class preoccupations in contemporary French drama. Like Reza translated by Christopher Hampton, The Truth is Zeller’s third play to hit the London stage in quick succession, following on from the superb The Father (now back in the West End) and The Mother.

As with those two plays, The Truth deals with the subjectivity of truth and the nature of reality, but rather than hallucinations stemming from mental breakdown — respectively dementia and maternal loss — here the context is deliberate deception and the tone is much more comic.

The action revolves around two married couples. Michel, married to Laurence, is having an affair with Alice, wife of his best friend Paul, using business meetings as cover for their trysts. It seems that Laurence and Paul both suspect their partners have been unfaithful, without knowing who they are sleeping with, but when Alice guiltily threatens to confess all Michel is thrown into a panic. The truth though proves to be far from straightforward as we cannot be sure who is deceiving whom.

The influence of Pinter’s Betrayal (acknowledged by Zeller himself) hangs over The Truth in the way in which the obvious deceit involved in an adulterous liaison is peeled back to reveal a much more complex web of lies concerning competitive male friendship as well as marital relations. Similarly, there is plenty of ambivalence and subtext in Zeller’s dialogue so that we must always doubt the veracity of what someone is saying: the characters lie to each other, but we too do not know who to believe.

However, Zeller does this in a more self-conscious, humorous way, playing with the audience’s conceptions of theatre, like a deconstruction of boulevard comedy. If it wasn’t so entertaining it could just become a dry exercise in postmodernist manipulation. The play also raises the more serious question of whether any relationship can bear the whole truth all of the time.

Lindsay Posner’s production skilfully treads the line between suspense and irony, with Lizzie Clachan’s clever design of retractable furniture and sliding panels enabling the action to move seamlessly between hotel room, home, office and changing room.

As the hypocritical liar Michel, Alexander Hanson rather overplays his squirming efforts to avoid being found out, though he is amusing when impersonating Alice’s aunt on the phone and drunkenly divulging more than he realises. Frances O’Connor’s playful but discontented Alice keeps him and us guessing as to what she will do, while Tanya Franks is coolly self-contained as the questioning Laurence. And Robert Portal gives an impressive performance as the inscrutable Paul, playing his hand like a poker master.

Hopefully we will soon get to see Zeller’s companion piece The Lie, which features the same scenario and characters but from a different perspective. Who knows, that may even provide us with the key to the truth — or at least a version of it.

The Truth is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street, SE1 1RU until 7 May. Tickets £27.50-£37.50. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.