Wyndham’s Theatre, London
ZELLER ZOOMS UP WEST, SHARP AS EVER
The Menier, back in spring, brought grave delight and snorts of laughter with this zinger of a play by Florian Zeller; its rapid transfer up West is more than well deserved. My earlier review is here – but it was irresistible to see whether an elegant, chamber four-hander at 90 sharp minutes ,which convulsed the small theatre, would transfer to the pomposities of the West End.
And it absolutely does. It makes many other plays feel overwritten and laboured: Lindsay Posner’s cast, now well dug in, present a masterclass: a string-quartet, a fugue of misunderstanding, confusion, falsification, obfuscation, attempted diversion and – in the case of the glorious central adulterer, Alexander Hanson’s Michel, a mounting hilarity of male outrage. His cry near the end, wanting to know “what sort of play we’re in, comedy or tragedy?”, is a question for us as well as the blustering deceived-deceiver and his deadpan best-friend and cuckold, Paul.
Zeller’s fascination with identity, confused reality, audience manipulation and the way emotional rugs slip unexpectedly from under our feet brought us the soberer The Father and The Mother in London recently. Here, he takes the traditional adultery farce firmly from the hairy old hands of the Feydeau generation, sharpens it unrecognizably, and overlays it with his existential preoccupations and spikes of real pain. The two men – Hanson and Robert Portal (Paul) – have on this second viewing grown to a particular brilliance in their big confrontation, when none of us can be sure whether Paul is brilliantly acting or genuinely angry, shocked, vengeful or just manipulative; Hanson here, a cornered buffalo, finds his very limbs hardly obeying him as layer after layer of potential truth hits him.
Frances O’Connor as Alice has a sexual sophisticate’s smoothness overlaying shafts of uncertainty and guilt; Tanya Franks as the other wife a deadpan chic cool, which gives way shockingly in the final moments to a remarkable piece of silent intense facial acting. They all, to some extent, lie; are all to some extent deceived. It zings, it turns on a sixpence, confuses, delights, prods pretensions. It has no mercy but a headshaking compassion. Brilliant.
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rating: still five…