French playwright Florian Zeller has been storming through London of late, with companion pieces The Mother and The Father already basking in acclaim, Oliviers and West End transfers. Now, his hat-trick play The Truth comes to Wyndham’s, with its sister play (the unsurprisingly titled The Lie) fresh from a smashing run in Paris late last year. I’m sensing a pattern here.
The Truth charts the deviously shifting extra-marital relations between two couples: Alice and Michel are having an affair, Laurence and Paul haven’t the slightest clue… Right? It seems sincerity is much less a virtue than it is a sign of weakness in this mendacious world. It’s one part Pinter, one part bedroom farce, it’s acidly funny and very, very French.
It’s easy to see why Zeller’s work has been lapped up by British audiences. He writes with a precision and lightness of touch that feels like a breath of fresh air in comparison to a lot of overladen new writing. Zeller’s loyal translator Christopher Hampton of course has something to do with this, and as we watch the dizzying mind games play out, one senses that every syllable and synonym was as carefully placed as the final domino in a devastating chain. While The Truth has been accused of being the most superficial of Zeller’s plays, this is more than just a where’s-my-trousers exercise in comedy. When the various lies of the play inevitably sharpen into deadly weapons, it becomes clear that Zeller has a lot to say about the essential nature of human relationships: how a relationship’s survival is inherently linked not to the sentimental notion of trust, but to power.
The production supports this beautifully. Performances are pitch perfect: Alexander Hanson’s Michel is toe-curlingly slimy, shifting from unabashed philanderer to jibbering idiot and back again with surprising grace. There’s a schadenfreude to witnessing his navigations through the intricacies of the plot that makes you almost want to like him, but not quite. Robert Portal’s Paul is equally excellent, as immovable as a rock particularly when compared to the eternally squirming Michel. One does get the sense that the women have less to do, but Tanya Franks’ Laurence in particular commands every time she’s onstage.
Lizzie Clachan’s monochrome set of sliding French doors elegantly captures the essence of the production. The black and white clarity of ‘truth’ and ‘lies’ have been eschewed here, we are left swimming in grey. As the world of the play continually appears to shift and move around us through hotel rooms, surgeries, living rooms; all invariably stoic, unforgiving white spaces, so too Zeller’s words appear to shift. Alibis shatter and regroup, minor fibs veer widely off course. The truth is as inscrutable and indecipherable as the chic post-modern art that adorn’s Paul’s living room wall.
But rest assured, this is no cautionary tale. One of The Truth’s greatest virtues (I’m sure Zeller would balk at the word) is its refusal to engage with anything resembling morality. The consequences, the breach of trust and the jealousy associated with infidelity are swept entirely to one side to more clearly revel in the cat-and-mouse game of fact versus fiction. With an arsenal of laughs, a whip-smart production and a set of accomplished players, The Truth’s mind games prove to be worthy of playing.
The Truth is on until 3rd September 2016. Click here for more information.