Florian Zeller continues to impress with this comedy about the perils of infidelity
“If people stopped lying to each other it would be the end of civilisation as we know it.”
Note: This is my review of The Truth at the Menier in 2016
With a wonderful ear for dialogue, Florian Zeller gives us a sophisticated comedy about the trust implications of infidelity. Alexander Hanson has the prime role as Michel, a man who thinks nothing of having an affair with his best friend’s wife and the double deceit of her husband and his wife.
The intricate plot opens with Michel and Alice (Frances O’Connor), rendezvousing in a hotel room “between meetings”. Alice is married to Paul, who is unemployed after taking severance from his firm.
At first, we think that this is the Parisian way of doing things. Doesn’t everyone in France have a mistress and aren’t they totally relaxed about extra-marital sex? Not according to Florian Zeller whose creation of the self absorbed Michel should come with a government health warning for women and husbands alike. This man will be bad for your self esteem!
I was reminded watching this modern comedy of manners that Christopher Hampton also gave us Yasmina Reza’s long running comedy Art where men fall out about their artistic taste. But we know Florian Zeller is the young playwright of The Father the very successful play which sees a man’s dementia from the inside looking out and his dramas have complexity and depth.
Michel is almost a sociopath, an egotistical, narcissistic man who doesn’t see the implications of his moral choices but only how he is affected by the actions of others. Alexander Hanson plays the Teflon man with great skill. When confronted by his wife Laurence (Tanya Franks) about his alibi, he lies and deflects and lies again turning every point she makes into aggressive indignation as to why she is questioning his fidelity. He often plays for time, repeating the question put to him while he thinks how to answer it.
Michel defends his lies as being kinder than “the truth”. What he doesn’t consider is not needing to lie because he hasn’t been unfaithful. Of course this dilemma is wonderful to watch on stage as his explanations get more and more ridiculous and we see Michel squirm at each sticky revelation.
The Truth is very well constructed and the timing of the actors is quite simply electric. In the very first scene with Paul’s wife Alice, Michel talks about decency and ethics and is scoffed at by the audience for his lack of integrity and self perception. There are delicately comic observations: when Alice asks to spend more than a couple of hours with Michel and suggests a weekend, Michel says “How long a weekend?” When they do get away, Laurence has told Paul that she is with her aunt and Paul phones her on her mobile and asks to speak to the aunt. Michel, put on the spot, hams it up pretending to be the aunt and getting it all wrong.
Lizzie Clachan’s sliding door set smoothly takes us from hotel room to Michel’s home to the tennis club where Paul and Michel regularly meet. There is a superb “tell” in the final act from Laurence which would be a spoiler were I to reveal it. Don’t miss this witty and beautifully acted play. If your spouse is having a secret affair and you haven’t confronted him or her, then The Truth would be an ideal way to break this conversation. Game on!
Written by Florian Zeller
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Robert Icke
Director: Lindsay Posner
Designer: Lizzie Clachan
Composer: Matthew Scott
Lighting Designer: Howard Harrison
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
Running Time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Closed at the Menier on 7th May 2016
but transferred to the Wyndhams