Florian Zeller’s The Lie is really a series of lies. Knotted and twisty, they weave a reliably unreliable fabric that covers (and even comforts) two upper class couples in Paris. Translated by Christopher Hampton, Zeller’s script is a philosophical examination of whether or not to tell the truth. Namely, in what instances do lies harm or help, clarify or muddle? Given its air of realism, which is in some sense another form of lying, The Lie looks at the economic interchange of truth-telling and what happens when we stray from it.
There’s a degree of sophistication in Zeller’s script, which encloses all of the action in Paul (Alexander Hanson) and Alice’s (Samantha Bond) Parisian home, upscale and swish in Anna Fleischle’s design. Fidelity and honesty become main topics of conversation after Alice sees Paul’s best friend Michel (Tony Gardner) with another woman, making their upcoming dinner party with Michel and his wife Laurence (Alexandra Gilbreath) a tense affair.
The pursuit for truth and reconciliation amounts to a series of revelations and recantations that ping-pong between Paul and Alice, and Zeller concocts a semi-satiating circularity of events: “You have to believe me if I have to believe you” becomes the pact between mutual liars. Zeller offers up some fun observations, including the bizarre realisation that the more fantastical the story, the truer it may seem.
But the circularity becomes repetitive, and without much grounding or context, this examination feels too abstract. Their lives outside the room are blurry – non-descript work and generic presentations act only to further the narrative. The exception is Michel, revealed to be a publisher if not for the sole purpose of saying the line (not once but twice), “People don’t really want to be told the truth”, with some degree of credibility on the matter.
The isolation and inward-looking nature of their relationships impacts how much they resonate. Lies aren’t just shared exclusively amongst friends and/or lovers; they bubble over, leak and ooze, and seem to seep into all aspects of our lives. Zeller’s exploration feels too clean, too controlled, and becomes limited to this Parisian home.
Lindsay Posner works to bring out the comedy, and Hanson and Bond’s chemistry improves as the play progresses. Considering Hanson arrived late in the rehearsal process, they manage to find a remarkable rhythm built upon a rich history of marital habits. Gilbreath as Laurence, Michel’s wife, offers a sparkling coolness and pretence of detachment that works well in contrast to Gardner’s severity.
But the real spoiler is a spoiler – a redundant and pointless epilogue that, by revealing the ‘truth’ after the play has ‘ended’, undoes any of the mystery and charm of what has come before. Under a garish red light, the nuance built up around the uses and abuses of truth is thinned out to the point of oblivion, and Zeller’s series of contorted lies become disappointingly untangled and resolved. So while at times a clever insight into how we use falsehoods, in the end The Lie forgets its own crucial observation: “People don’t really want to be told the truth.”
The Lie is at Menier Chocolate Factory until November 18th. For more details, click here.