The Truth

Florian Zeller, in a Version by Christopher Hampton
Menier Chocolate Factory

Frances O'Connor (Alice) and Alexander Hanson (Michel) Credit: Marc Brenner
Robert Portal (Paul) and Alexander Hanson (Michel) Credit: Marc Brenner
Alexander Hanson (Michel) and Frances O'Connor (Alice) Credit: Marc Brenner

With the assistance of his British adapter, Christopher Hampton, French novelist and playwright Florian Zeller is the hottest new writer to hit London in the last year.

The Father showed genius, while its sister play The Mother was also a drama out of the top drawer. They were models of realism and scored both for characterisation and draining intensity.

In that light, The Truth comes as a real surprise. It is a far-fetched and highly schematic comedy that borders on farce and relies on the viewer's willingness to suspend their disbelief for long periods.

The underlying conceit is an ethical dilemma that is well worth exploring. Is life simpler and better if you tell The Truth rather than duck and dive in oceans of lies that become increasingly hard to sustain?

On this occasion, the credibility is particularly stretched when it comes to the central character. Alexander Hanson plays Michel, a middle-aged businessman regarded as intelligent by his closest friends for reasons that are not apparent to those witnessing his desperate antics from beyond the fourth wall.

The situation upon which the comedy is based comes straight out of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, complete with the racket sports, albeit the story is told sequentially.

The lights come up on a hotel room, part of Lizzie Clachan’s effective design concept, in which Michel is finishing an energetic afternoon with Frances O'Connor's Alice.

It quickly becomes apparent that, rather than Michel's wife, Alice is married to his best friend and tennis partner, the recently unemployed Paul, an under-written role played with great dignity by Robert Portal.

After much agonising and frankly tedious repetition, the hysterical neurotic persuades his honest lover of six months that subterfuge can and should be sustained. This leads to a series of unlikely scenarios as Michel's desperation begins to take over his life and reason, without ever seeming plausible.

To take one example, there is a scene in which he attempts to justify his whereabouts to his wife Laurence, played by Tanya Franks, which contains enough unexplained inconsistencies to beggar belief.

What one gradually discovers as the 90 minutes pass is that Zeller's main weapon is repeatedly to turn his story upside down, attempting to leave doubt in the spectator's mind as to where The Truth actually lies.

For those that are able to ignore the schematic plotting and random excuses, coupled with Alexander Hanson's literally farcical acting under the direction of Lindsay Posner, this comedy might tickle the funny bone.

Anyone who seeks sophistication will enjoy the less predictable scenes, where deadpan is used to good effect, but might otherwise feel that the high hopes engendered by Zeller's other hits are not fulfilled on this occasion.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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