Menier Chocolate Facgtory Autumn 2017
London has recently had a full helping of plays by young French playwright Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, with The Father in 2015, The Mother and The Truth last year, and now The Lie.
They've been received with gradually diminishing enthusiasm, and may now have reached the point of diminishing returns. The Lie is an unoriginal comedy whose scattered laughs are largely knee-jerk reactions to formulaic set-ups.
The Truth was about two married couples who were being mutually adulterous and further one-upping each other by knowing but not letting on that they knew about their partners' and best friends' betrayals.
The Lie uses the same four characters (and one of the same actors) with a new premise.
Alice tells husband Paul that she believes friend Michel is cheating on his wife Laurence, leading to a debate on whether couples should confess affairs in the name of marital honesty or hide them in the name of protecting the spouse from pain.
Alice asks if Paul has ever been unfaithful, and nags and browbeats him, assuring him she'll prefer honesty to deception, until he confesses – at which point, of course, she storms off and locks him out of the bedroom.
Paul tries to convince her he was lying, just trying to stop her nagging, but then she offers her own confession.
I won't go any further except to say a string of confessions and retractions results in neither of them being sure what the truth is, with Paul in particular reeling from every switchback and reversal.
(Hang around after the curtain calls because a clever postscript scene finally tells us what the truth is – though of course you will have spotted that in the first 15 minutes, or what is the second couple there for?)
The comic potential of someone driven frantic by not being able to choose among conflicting stories probably goes back to Aristophanes, though I kept thinking of Pinter's The Collection and Stoppard's The Real Thing (both of which used the premise to more serious and substantial ends).
Florian Zeller's three previous plays each wore openly the influence of other contemporary writers, especially Pinter, but in each case he built on his sources to explore character or situation in new ways.
His contribution to The Lie is little more than attaching his characters' names to the received outline. This is paint-by-numbers playwriting, just colouring in the template.
As Alice, Samantha Bond does enigmatic and unknowable as well as anyone since Vivian Merchant, while Alexander Hanson's way with panicking confusion puts him in the same league as David Haig.
Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbre3ath are asked to do very little as the other couple, and generously serve the play. Director Lindsay Posner keeps the rapidly deflating ball in the air longer than you might think possible.
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Review - The Lie - Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre 2017