Sunday, 24 September 2017

Theatre review: The Lie

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: Official critics are invited this Wednesday.

The critics may well get to see one of the leads performing most of the play script-in-hand as Alexander Hanson, a late replacement for an ill James Dreyfus, was at today’s performance only off-book for two of the play’s scenes. This is for the latest from Florian Zeller, who seems to like his plays to come in pairs: The Truth is followed up by The Lie, another comedy of infidelity, which even has its characters share the names of the earlier play’s quartet (although they don’t actually appear to be the same characters, unless they’re alternate-universe versions.) And as The Truth was about lies, then The Lie is about truths, and passing off the truth as a lie. If that all seems a bit convoluted and circular you should see the actual dialogue, which at one point I thought had actually turned into a real-life version of the famous “loop” scene from The Play That Goes Wrong.

So maybe Hanson can be forgiven for being a bit behind with his lines* as Paul, who’s about to host a dinner party with his wife, only to have Alice (Samantha Bond) announce she wants to cancel it with minutes to spare. This is because earlier that day she spotted their friend Michel (Tony Gardner) kissing a woman who wasn’t his wife, and she doesn’t think she can bear the whole evening keeping the secret from Laurence (Alexandra Gilbreath.) Naturally, their guests arrive before they can put them off, and the awkward conversation includes Alice posing the real situation as a hypothetical, in a discussion about lies that are sometimes kinder than the truth. Laurence actually says she’d rather not know if her husband was cheating on her so Alice keeps the secret, but once the guests are gone it sets her off delving into her own marriage, and she interrogates Paul over whether he’s ever cheated on her.

In keeping with the style of Zeller’s earlier comedy, there’s a lot of revelations being held back and both couples have secrets they’ll tie themselves into knots to keep. At its heart, The Lie pushes to its extreme that aforementioned argument about lying for someone else’s good, as hurtful truths are revealed and the characters tacitly agree to believe they were lies for the sake of an easy life. It’s an entertaining enough 90 minutes and, script in hand or not, Lindsay Posner’s production is slick, but there’s neither belly laughs not great insight here. On the evidence of two of each, I’m not as impressed by the French writer’s comedies as I am by his dramas; there’s a tameness to the former where the latter felt bold, and it feels as if the pairs really have ended up at the right theatres, The Father and The Mother making Zeller’s name in London at the Tricycle, The Truth and The Lie winding up at the safer Menier.

The Lie by Florian Zeller, in a version by Christopher Hampton, is booking until the 18th of November at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

*of course we know Hanson’s a slow study: Stephen Ward had already been running for a few months when I saw it, and he still hadn’t registered the line that said he wasn’t meant to be playing him as a dirty old man.

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