The Lie

Helen Connolly
Act Your Age
Salford Arts Theatre

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The Lie

Anyone missing wall-to-wall political coverage now the general election is over can get a boost with Helen Connolly’s The Lie.

In the early 1980s, Cathy (Leah Marks) was politically active but lost interest after the reported death of her boyfriend and fellow activist Ian (Liam Grunshaw). As the decade moves to a close, Cathy is stunned when her mother Jean (Wendy Patterson) reports that not only is Ian alive and well but has a wife and children.

Ian tracks Cathy down and explains he was always married and their relationship grew out of his work as a undercover police officer who infiltrated her protest group to gather evidence on their activities. His faked death seemed the easiest way out of the relationship when the undercover operation ceased. Ian is, however, now willing to leave his family and start a new relationship with Cathy.

Director Rhonwen McCormack makes a few concessions towards a comedy drama in the early scenes with Cathy desperately tidying her flat in case her once-dead boyfriend calls around and references to different types of deception. Cathy’s sister once had an affair and tells ‘white lies’ to avoid unwanted social gatherings. Examples are given of the way political protesters and even football fans were demonised by the gutter press and the police service during the miners’ strike and the Hillsborough disaster. But the play quickly becomes a confrontation between Ian and Cathy.

For all the political posturing, there is a surprising lack of idealism behind the arguments. Cathy’s past political beliefs are left vague with few details beyond her taking part in protest marches. One might have imagined Ian seduced Cathy because her role in the protest organisation was pivotal, but this is never established.

Rather than an evangelical believer, Ian is a rather dull jobsworth who claims to have no interest in the politics behind his shady work but to be just doing his job. Frustratingly, therefore, no attempt is made to justify a government / police service treating its own citizens as ‘enemies within’ and authorising surveillance. As a result, the arguments between Ian and Cathy lack passion—it feels like they are debating issues about which they have only a mild interest.

The anticipated argument between an outraged idealist coping with betrayal and someone who cynically believes the ends justify the means never arises. Considering the UK’s new Prime Minister has many times mentioned the need to restore public faith in the political process, the failure to explore in depth one of the more shameful past aspects feels like a lost opportunity.

It is possible author Helen Connolly is aiming the play at audience members who are unaware of the scandal of undercover officers entering into intimate relationships with members of targeted groups. At the conclusion of the play, Wendy Patterson simply steps out of character to address the audience direct and give facts and figures on the scandal.

Despite concerning controversial subjects such as the abuse of political power, The Lie is a play which struggles to stir strong emotions.

The Lie returns to the Salford Arts Theatre on 20 July 2024

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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