Everybody lies; small lies, big lies, white lies and lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction in order to start what some may say is an illegal war. Without lies we would potentially live in an everlasting state of argument and there would be few relationships – either friendships or those of a more intimate nature – that could last if they were carried out in a world of constant, unasked for truth. But beneath overt mistrusts, we exist by accepting there are 'hidden questions'; things we may think but don't ask because we either know, or don't want to know, the answer we expect to be given. After all, life is lived much more easily by floating along blindly in the undisruptive, unchallenging convention of conversational platitudes.
It's a very funny 90 minutes and a very different expression of Zeller's interest in raising questions in the audience
Playing again with what isn’t being said – as Florian Zeller has already shown us in both The Father and The Mother – The Truth deals with the webs weaved when defending one's self-righteous actions involved in sexual infidelity. And as you may expect, the more obvious subject matter on hand here leads to a slightly less involving tale than in his other plays. The expectations for Zeller's work are now very high – and possibly too high to attain within a much more common theatrical debate, where the Pinter influences are overtly clear (having covered pretty much the same tale in Betrayal).
The simpler storyline here is around Michel's six-month affair with the wife of his unemployed best friend and his all-important belief that any talk of guilt or of telling the truth about the situation is an unwarranted interruption that can do no good to anyone. There are machinations and confusions in the development of the two couples as more details are disclosed – some truths, but some lies; as with his previous plays, you can never be sure of the validity of what is being said – and stories, people and confidence hilariously ravel and unravel in front of our eyes like a power play between Fact and Fiction (or rather, the 'Avoidance of Truth').
Having dealt with dementia and abandonment in his other pieces, it's always going to be difficult for this 'lighter' subject to stand up to comparison but that's the benchmark we are now at. Here, Zeller (again translated by Christopher Hampton) shows his talent for comedy within confusion. The writing acts almost as a modern day farce; replacing the stereotyped mixed-up entrances and trouser-dropping with complex wordplay that constantly trips over and corrects itself as the characters attempt to appear swanlike above the surface whilst we can sense their legs viciously flapping below to remain that way.
The four actors do a fine job in portraying their constant search for the "right words" – but it is played more like farce than any characterisation with real depth. As the whole script only covers conversations about the affair (or affairs?), there's little possibility of getting to know any of them other than through facial expressions and body language of how they interact. Robert Portal as the cuckolded husband Paul, for example, relies on little more than a plummy drawling delivery and a slightly awkward, wooden stance to demonstrate a certain stoicism – though, as with all the cast, his timing is impeccable.
It means there is no belief or information given as to why any of these people are having relationships with each other – other than lines such as “I love making love with you”, “You're my best friend of over 20 years” and the continuous affectations of “I love you” which act more as signposts than having depth of meaning. Acceptedly that may get in the way of the debate being played on the value of ‘truth’ but it does mean we seem to be watching ‘after the fact’ and so laugh at their situations, rather than ever really understand them. The focus here is clearly on getting the laughs but at the expense of debating the real issues on hand. Alexander Hanson as Michel particularly drives the humour with his sense of confusion and arrogance, bordering on hyperactivity – but his rather effete performance with lots of hands on hips, pursed lips and flicking of coiffed hair does nothing to help us believe that he is the red-blooded man who wins the tennis matches, the business and the women with his appeal. His verbal dexterity is much stronger than his characterisation but, to be fair, this particular script drives the performances that way.
It's a very funny 90 minutes and a very different expression of Zeller's interest in raising questions in the audience, rather than supplying answers – but it is light enough that I doubt many would leave with any long lasting debates in their heads. I do want to see the play's counterpart, Le Mensonge (The Lie) come to London, as the more you get to know his style, the better your understanding becomes. But here the style may be resting a little too much on the dialogue to the detriment of the characterisation and with much less use of the other theatrical elements that were pulled in so successfully with The Father. So, it's fun, fine and laugh out loud funny, but he has a high bar of his own to be compared to and that this just doesn't quite reach.