Menier Chocolate Factory, London – until 18 November 2017
FAITHFUL TO UNFAITHFULNESS, ZELLER SPARKLES AGAIN – This is a companion-piece to the stormingly funny, cruelly witty The Truth: Florian Zeller, translated from the French with verve by Christopher Hampton, directed by Lindsay Posner, and once again starring Alexander Hanson. An actor who does wounded-insincere-yet-sufferingly-self-righteous infidelity like nobody else.
Once again Zeller is playing around with the question of who is lying, who believes who, and who is pretending to lie in order to conceal that the lie is actually a truth, etc. It is not quite as chokingly and constantly funny as The Truth, which was the most sophisticated of farces in shorter sharper scenes. This one is more philosophical, with possible longueurs in at least one scene where the key couple are persuading one another to disbelieve the lie which they have told one another and which is – at some points – actually true.
Treble-bluff, whip-smart, and it is always entertaining to spot “tells” and think you know better than the protagonists. It begins with the deceptively simple fact that Alice – an elegantly businesslike Samantha Bond – wants to cancel a dinner with their closest friends Michel and Laurence, because she has seen Michel with another woman in the street and feels she should in honesty tell her friend. Her husband Paul – Hanson, who feels sympathy for Michel – says that it is kinder not to, and struggles in the dinner to prevent her having any time with Laurence.
But the very discussion of infidelity makes Alice, with righteous paeans to truth in marriage, ask him frankly whether he has ever cheated. And for a while we think aha, maybe this is the core of the plot, a solid marriage crumbling on suspicion for no real reason. At last, her husband admits it, then says he made it up because she pushed him, so was lying about having lied. Whereon she says she has also cheated.
And the complications mount as Michel (Tony Gardner, always a touch satanic) comes round to console the panicking Paul. And the diabolical truth-that-is a lie-about-the-truth builds up between them and spills over into philosophical craziness and sometimes cruelly funny moments. Hanson, Bond and Gardner all have utter mastery of the half-noticed “tell”, and the faux-tell, so we are never entirely sure who is lying. Except that we pretty much reckon they all are. And in a final coda we find out anyway.
The laughs are sometimes pure happy shock, sometimes cruel: the blackmailing moral “you have to believe me if you want me to believe you” being pretty much the closest to an ethic we get. But Zeller does have a moral insight – note his remarkable The Father and The Mother, both recently in London. So one suspects that if you drill down, what he actually thinks is that infidelity is not the end of the world. So clever, entertaining, not quite the dazzler his other plays have been, but solid pleasure. Though one hopes Mrs May and Mr Davis don’t see it, or they’ll never trust a French negotiator again.
box office 0207 378 1713 to 18 Nov