This review was first written for The Reviews Hub
Florian Zeller’s writing has become a phenomenon of the British stage over the last 18 months, with both The Father and its companion play The Mother being showcased in acclaimed translations by Christopher Hampton. But is his explosive brand of theatrical disorientation a simple flash in the pan, or can he demonstrate the same depth and versatility again, proving himself once and for all to be a dramatist of the highest order?
With The Truth – his latest play to land in the UK as a Theatre Royal Bath and Menier Chocolate Factory co-production – Zeller is again exquisitely translated by Hampton from the French. But here, direction is entrusted to Lindsay Posner, whose recent theatrical credits range from The End of Longing and Abigail’s Party to Dinner with Saddam. It’s a move that seems guaranteed to mine The Truth – which already takes a lighter tone in its treatment of infidelity than Zeller’s previous dark comedies – for all its farcical elements.
Michel has been having an affair with Alice, his best friend Paul’s wife, for the last six months. But Alice is becoming sick of secret liaisons in hotel rooms and is looking for something more. Little does she realise – or maybe she does? – that an illicit weekend away in Bordeaux will have hilarious but far-reaching consequences.
The cast is flawless, with the verbal tennis between the four players reflecting the match that becomes an integral part of the plot. Michel, portrayed with a combination of impervious charm and fleet-footed outrage by Alexander Hanson, is confronted by his wife, Laurence (Broadchurch and EastEnders’ alumna Tanya Franks) and is able to mollify her – or so he thinks. But Paul (Robert Portal) has his suspicions, too, while Alice, played with mixture of sure-footed self-confidence and mounting exasperation by Frances O’Connor, is longing to put an end to all the lies.
As layer upon layer of deceit is peeled away, only to be replaced with bigger falsehoods, can Michel hold it together and preserve his delicate relationships with his wife and best friend? Or should he go along with Alice and decide to spill the beans no matter what the fallout?
The story unfolds as an increasing labyrinth, where a truth is established in one scene, only to be immediately torn down in the next. Lizzie Clachan’s minimalist white design, coupled with Howard Harrison’s lighting, adds a stark visual impact reminiscent of Zeller’s other plays, albeit not as well suited to the grandeur of the Theatre Royal’s main stage as to previous productions in the intimacy of its Ustinov Studio.
In The Truth, Zeller once again successfully toys with his audience’s perceptions with a conviction that answers questions about his longevity and suggests Hampton should be set to translating the play’s companion piece The Lie. In hurtling headlong into the abyss, Posner’s production exploits all the high comedy in a manner more reminiscent of a Feydeau farce than a Pinter play. This may overlook some of the layers of nuance and pathos that elevate Zeller’s writing to a higher plane, but it does so with the surest of touches and succeeds in producing an extraordinarily entertaining and energetic 85 minutes of deceit.
Reviewed on 9 May 2016. Transferring to Wyndham's Theatre from 22nd June 2016 for 10 weeks | Image: Tristram Kenton