Wyndham’s Theatre, London – until 3 September 2016
Guest reviewer: Andy Bee
Florian Zeller is a precocious writing talent. The Truth is his third play to enthral London theatregoers in a year. While the French playwright’s breakthrough import The Father reduced some viewers to tears with its poignant and painful depiction of dementia. The Truth, a modern day farce about lies and adultery, brings tears of laughter.
Laurence (Tanya Franks) is married to Michel (Alexander Hanson) who is having an affair with Alice (Frances O’Connor) who is married to Michel’s best friend Paul (Robert Portal). We watch in fascination as the reality of the characters’ lives implode. Who is telling the truth? What are the lies? The audience is cleverly manipulated as the story unfolds. Zeller has certainly tapped into the male psyche concerning adultery but what makes this interesting is that the female characters are as complicit (or are they?) as the men.
Alexander Hanson starts the proceedings, yanking up his underpants and meandering the stage like an impatient John Wayne. Never has the search for a sock been so amusing. Throughout, Hanson moves around the stage, a caged creature, whilst the other characters have a centred quality and often, a stillness. The simple, effective direction by Lindsay Posner keeps the action clean, letting the dialogue shine, lines ricocheting around the auditorium.
Lizzie Clachan‘s stylish, minimalist set is highly effective in its simplicity. A pale, streamlined background of rooms that change ever so subtly; no doors are used as associated with our expectation of traditional farce. There is restrained embellishment, beautifully allowing the focus onto the actors.
Frances O’Connor has a regal quality in her sharp stilettos and brings a disarming coldness to Alice. For a play steeped in sex, O’Connor’s Alice is calculating & practical, her sensual side kept under-wraps in her skin tight designer dresses. Tanya Franks’ Laurence appears stoic, a perfect portrayal of middle class normality. She has a payoff in the final scene which she plays beautifully, the veneer that had been held together throughout, crumbling before our eyes.
Robert Portal’s Paul, has strength and conviction but an under lying sadness. Portal’s body language and broad-chested stance belie his internal questioning. His confidence seems contrived and Portal keeps the audience questioning to the very end of Paul’s motives.
Throughout the 90 minutes duration (without an interval, which works perfectly) I found myself constantly drawn to Hanson’s Michel. Even as a loathsome narcissist, he never fails to have immense charm and aplomb. His increasingly nervous, nuanced, suppressed manic philanderer is the glue that holds the whole piece together. It is a quite mesmeric performance which deserves as big an audience as possible.
The Truth packs the entertainment punch of a really good old fashioned farce, though Zeller has brought the genre into 2016 with barbed words, stating uncomfortable truths: with lies dressed in the hubris of modern day self belief. At one point, a character asks if they are in a comedy or a tragedy. And there is the truth – the play is both but manages to keep the tragedy of this predicament firmly within the comedy genre. This is darn good theatre, highly recommended. Go see it!
Booking until 3rd SeptemberReviewed by Andy Bee