The Lie

Florian Zeller, in a Translation by Christopher Hampton

Menier Chocolate Factory

From 14 September 2017 to 18 November 2017

Review by Philip Fisher

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The Lie has the character of a classic French farce without the doors, dropped trousers or other physical elements.

Florian Zeller's companion piece to The Truth is an 80-minute comedy that has higher potential, attempting to be a sophisticated meditation on truth, lies and the morality of when each is appropriate.

The drama takes place in the comfortable Paris living room of Alexander Hanson's Paul and his wife Alice, portrayed by Samantha Bond.

This is the location for an intimate dinner party with their old friends, Michel and Laurence, respectively played by Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbreath.

What should be a relaxing evening speeded along by embarrassingly expensive wine turns into anything but when Alice suddenly becomes inexplicably jumpy and tries to call off the party at less than half an hour's notice.

After a considerable amount of pressurised interrogation, Paul teases out a less than convincing tale about suspected infidelity on the part of Michel, who rather carelessly enjoyed an injudicious kiss on a busy pavement as Alice was passing in a taxi.

By the time that the guests make an early appearance, Paul has begun to act like a farcical, panicking husband, a state of mind into which Michel later also succumbs.

Zeller then explores every variation on the theme of infidelity with a cast much smaller than those typically used by Feydeau and his peers.

Having already taken a leading role in The Truth, Alexander Hanson rather manically carries much of the play's burden, having nobly stepped in at a late stage to fill a casting gap for director, Lindsay Posner when James Dreyfus was obliged to withdraw shortly before the original opening night.

The problem with this piece is that once you catch on to what is the initial untruth, everything else in the plot is entirely predictable. This means that while there are amusing moments and some thoughtful debating regarding unkind truths, white lies and the obligations of marriage in contemporary (French) society, The Lie is too close to a slight sitcom or farce denuded of many of the best jokes to be the kind of major theatrical work that one has come to expect from Florian Zeller.