“People don’t really want to be told the truth”
Just as The Father comes along with The Mother, The Truth is followed by The Lie. British theatre’s amour fou for Florian Zeller continues apace with another of his comedies making it over to London but are we approaching diminishing returns as we delve deeper into his back catalogue? Director Lindsay Posner and translator Christopher Hampton clearly don’t think so as they return to the Menier Chocolate with The Lie but I’m not so convinced.
The production got off to a rocky start when James Dreyfus had to withdraw due to illness, though choosing Alexander Hanson as his replacement provides a little extratextual spice as he stars opposite his wife Samantha Bond as married couple Paul and Alice. As we meet them, they’re havering over a dinner party they’re hosting that is meant to start imminently – Alice wants to cancel it as she just saw Michel kissing a woman who wasn’t his wife Laurence but their early arrival takes the decision out of their hands.
Zeller’s interest is in the secrets and lies that we’ll tell ourselves to maintain the lives we want. Alice can’t bear the thought of not telling her friend the truth and so circles the dinner conversation around hypotheticals about whether it is ever better to lie. And once her guests leave, her attentions turn to her own marriage though once she starts pulling at that thread, it’s not clear how prepared she is for how far it might go.
It’s all very well performed – Bond and Hanson both impress, as do Alexandra Gilbreath and Tony Gardner as the other couple – and Posner directs with fluidity in Anna Fleischle’s clinically cool design. But cool is the watchword throughout – with nothing hugely insightful to say, The Lie never gripped me or provoked any strong emotion one way or another, at least not until an overly explicatory epilogue which seems to work against the very nature of the show. No word of a lie, I wasn’t really a fan.