Florian Zeller's play puts a new slant on the French reputation for a relaxed attitude towards infidelity and stars real life husband and wife Samantha Bond and Alexander Hanson
“tf everyone told the truth, there wouldn’t be a single couple left on earth!”
Note: This is my original review of Florian Zeller’s play The Lie from 2017.
The French have a reputation of being very relaxed around infidelity with the idea that everyone knows about the sexual dalliances and no-one is particularly bothered. Not so in the opening scene in Florian Zeller’s new play The Lie which sees Samantha Bond as Alice married to Paul, played by her real life husband Alexander Hanson. Alice is really agitated. She has seen the husband of her best friend, Laurence, kissing another woman in a shop doorway. She was in a taxi so Michel (Tony Gardner) wouldn’t have seen her.
Alice and Paul have asked Laurence and Michel round to supper that evening and Alice’s dilemma is whether she should tell her best friend. Alice feels like cancelling dinner but Paul is aware that he has already opened two bottles of an expensive wine to let them breathe, the celebrated Chateau Lafitte. His statement, “But I have opened two bottles of wine!” becomes something of a refrain. He expresses an opinion that he doesn’t think Michel kissing another woman is any of Michel wife’s Laurence’s business. This is the prompt for the couple to discuss the rights and wrongs of disclosure of the implied infidelity of another. She will be indignant, he will be evasive.
The couple arrive: the very animated and effervescent Laurence (Alexandra Gilbreath) and her more sedate husband, the allegedly philandering Michel. Alice starts to tell her tale of what she saw in the taxi while Paul tries to cut her off. Michel relates the honesty question to his occupation as a publisher where he feels his authors would not receive well his truthful opinion on the shortcomings of their novels and so favours lying. Paul puts his foot in it with a quip, “If everyone told the truth, there wouldn’t be a single couple left on earth!”
The visiting couple leave and Alice insists that Paul tell her the truth about whether he has had an affair. After a lot of argument, when Alice winkles out of him something she really doesn’t want to hear, Paul will spend the night on the sofa. The bombshells will drop and the plot takes serpentine leaps as confessions are elicited and then taken back. Florian Zeller’s play is a development of the classic French farce, except that the comedy here is word driven and displays mental agility and deception rather than physical racing around.
Thank goodness Florian Zeller’s couples appear childless. We can only imagine the effect that all this complicated deceit would have on the children. His plays are always rather well balanced. There are no innocent victims, only transgressors. Listening to the dialogue, the delicious humour reminds me of Yasmina Reza’s play Art but that may also be because both are French and translated by Christopher Hampton.
Anna Fleischle’s set too is of those elegant Parisian mansion flats, spacious, airy and decorated minimally with exacting taste.
In director Lindsay Posner’s capable hands, the performances are tip top and believable, although armed with my cynical approach, I saw the denouement coming quite early on. I loved Alex Hanson’s flustered red face. Now what would be really interesting would be the play about real life infidelity about two actors playing a married couple, who are married in real life and conducting affairs.
Florian Zeller’s play is a very amusing night out for anyone not hiding secret entanglements for whom it could open a can of worms.
Written by Florian Zeller
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Lindsay Posner
Director: Lindsay Posner
Designer: Anna Fleischle
Lighting Designer: Howard Harrison
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
Composer: Isabella Waller-Bridge
Running Time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Closed at the Menier on 18th November 2017