Over the past two years the young and voguish French playwright Florian Zeller has given us ‘The Mother’, ‘The Father’ and ‘The Truth’, all of them intelligent, urbane, heady plays about family and domestic life, and all translated by Christopher Hampton. Now Zeller confirms his love of a punchy, symmetrical title with ‘The Lie’. It's a companion piece to ‘The Truth’ – in that it again offers two couples being economical with la vérité when it comes to whatever extramarital ding-dongs they may or may not have been indulging in.
It’s a snappy, chatty portrait of relationships and near-farcical in how it presents language as a minefield in the warzone of marriage. But this proves to be a lighter, less incisive play than its predecessor, despite a constant flow of barbed wit and a suite of strong performances.
The two couples in ‘The Lie’ even have the same names as those in the earlier ‘The Truth’, but this time we see a similar affair from a different perspective. Middle-aged Paul (Alexander Hanson) and Alice (Samantha Bond) are expecting another couple for dinner at their bright, bourgeois apartment (Anna Fleischle’s design and Isobel Waller-Bridge’s music suggest a certain sort of tasteful-but-characterless Gallic sensibility). But before Michel (Tony Gardner) and Laurence (Alexandra Gilbreath) arrive, Alice confesses to Paul that she’s seen Michel kissing another woman in the street. She thinks that they should cancel and that she should tell Laurence what she’s seen. Paul strongly disagrees.
Too late: the doorbell rings, and soon an awkward dinner and revealing late-evening conversation shake the foundations of Paul and Alice’s own coupledom, leading to a series of confrontations that are more about point-scoring and power relationships than really digging under the skin of feelings and character. Lindsay Posner’s production delivers an extremely slick game of words as each character treats their emotional lives like a set of weighing scales that need recalibrating. Zeller, too, seems more concerned with the machinery of his writing than what that writing actually has to say about people and their lives. It’s an amusing play, sometimes acerbic, but it paddles in the shallows of two troubled marriages rather than plunging us into their depths.