Friday, 08 April 2016

THE TRUTH

Florian Zeller’s latest is another confoundingly good drama, a hilarious tale of infidelity and deceit

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176A middle-aged chap named Michel is pulling on his underpants, hurriedly getting dressed to get to a meeting following a snatched afternoon tryst in a hotel room with his svelte, enigmatic mistress, Alice (Frances O’Connor). As he hops around looking for a stray sock he asks: ‘And your husband, everything all right? I still can’t get over the way the bastards threw him out. Those people have no decency, really. People don’t go in for ethics any more.’

It’s outrageously funny. Here is a man so utterly self-absorbed, so lacking self-awareness and so morally bankrupt that, seconds after getting out of bed with his best friend’s wife, he points fingers at the unethical behaviour of others. But then, hypocrisy is Michel’s forte: ‘We’re both married,’ he needlessly reminds Alice. ‘Especially you.’

You may recognise the plot. It’s Harold Pinter’s Betrayal given a touch of je ne sais quoi and a soufflé lightness. You may also recognise the name of the playwright, Florian Zeller, translations of whose work by Christopher Hampton (who brought us Yasmina Reza’s Art and Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses) have recently made him theatre’s hottest property. The Father, a searing study of dementia suffered by an elderly man, was my play of the year in 2015. His companion piece, The Mother, explored one woman’s obsession with her only son. In both, Zeller puts the audience inside the head of a person experiencing a devastating sense of loss, in which hideously confusing tricks seem to be being played on them. Who is seeing precisely what? And whose version of reality is the true one?

While those plays made me weep tears of grief, The Truth had me helplessly crying with laughter. Zeller is once again playing with the idea of who knows what or, even more complicated, who is pretending to know, or not to know, what. When, later that evening, Michel goes home to Laurence, his super-composed wife, she listens to what we know to be a catalogue of lies, before saying something that makes it blindingly obvious that she knows he is lying. The spectacle of Alexander Hanson’s hilarious, ghastly Michel, frothing wildly, digging ever deeper holes with each incriminating word, had mascara running down my cheeks.

Under Lindsay Posner’s slick direction, Lizzie Clachan’s elegant set slips and slides from hotel to apartment to tennis-club changing room (Pinter’s best mates played squash) just as our take on each character slips and slides as they variously withhold information or slyly manipulate their husband, wife or friend, revealing a layer upon layer of deceit. Zeller’s craftsmanship dazzles. If it doesn’t transfer to the West End, I’ll eat my chapeau.

Until 7 May at the Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street, London SE1: 020-7378 1713, www.menierchocolatefactory.com and from 9-14 May at Theatre Royal Bath: 01225-448844, www.theatreroyal.org.uk


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