This is the third play by the dazzling young French playwright Florian Zeller (‘The Father’, ‘The Mother’) to be staged in London in less than two years – and the third to be translated by British writer Christopher Hampton. It’s a zippy, witty farce about ever-shifting layers of infidelity as experienced by two middle-aged Parisian couples. The play’s laughs are as sharp as Lindsay Posner’s ruthlessly swift and snappy production (90 minutes, no interval). Its comedy is playful but also barbed: one of the characters even asks, ‘I want to know what kind of play we’re in. Is it a comedy? Or a tragedy?’
We enter on a classic adultery set-up: Alice (Frances O’Connor, sleekly guarded) and Michel (Alexander Hanson, endearingly pompous), both well-turned-out professionals, are pulling up their pants mid-afternoon in a hotel room. It turns out that Michel is good friends with Alice’s husband, Paul (Robert Portal), and in turn Paul and Alice know Michel’s wife, Laurence (Tanya Franks). They’re urban sophisticates doing the dirty with a surface elan, and they're all intricately connected, just as in Harold Pinter’s landmark 1970s adultery drama ‘Betrayal’, a comparison that feels even more fitting when, as here, the play is performed in English with the refined accents of the haute-bourgeoisie.
Between the laughs, ‘The Truth’ plants seeds of discomfort about why and how we lie to each other and ourselves. It makes a mockery of truth, making it appear more and more of an absurd idea with each new revelation. There’s a strong, tricksy sense of 'performance' in each scene: of characters playing out versions of themselves; of them using language as a shield. An endearing, increasingly shaken Alexander Hanson runs the full gamut from wrong’un to wronged as Michel, while Robert Portal as Paul offers an intriguing play on male defence mechanisms. Tanya Franks wears perhaps the saddest, most sophisticated mask of them all as Michel's wife Laurence.
The language of blame is rife: ‘What a bitch!’, ‘What a bastard!’. Lying is fine, it seems, as long as you’re in charge. This is a lighter, perhaps more throwaway play than ‘The Father’ – Zeller’s last play to transfer to the West End – but its quick pace and bracing comic wordplay fail to hide some piercing, lasting truths.