What a bloody pickle. You’re having an affair with your best friend’s wife, sneaking around hotel rooms, being all naughty and ringing in sick to work like you’re part-time at Greggs again – when it transpires you’re really not being as discreet as once thought. Mega. Drams.
The Truth – Florian Zeller’s third play to hit London and the first at the Menier Chocolate Factory – is the culmination of a staggering 18 months for the French playwright. The first, The Father, premiered at the Theatre Royal Bath before transferring to the Tricycle, and then the Wyndhams and Duke of York’s theatres in the West End. The Mother, started and ended a successful run at the Tricycle this year. Both were stunning analyses of one strong individual and the family unit, whilst The Truth attempts to pull what little fragments two relationships have apart in an absurd fashion.
Translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Lindsay Posner, this is a chaotic and cringeworthy farce with some fantastic performances and tight, often hilarious dialogue. Michel (Alexander Hanson) is having an affair with Alice (Frances O’Connor). Whilst she deliberates over increasing guilt, he – self involved and teetering on sociopathic – believes it best for everyone to hide the truth. Her husband Paul (Robert Portal) has just lost his high-powered job and seemingly does not have a clue about the indiscretions of those closest to him. Michel’s wife, Laurence (Tanya Franks), questions him mercifully. We know she knows. Right? The gradually evolving story, the twists and turns and damn cheek of every individual in The Truth will have you hiding behind your sweaty hands, howling with laughter and screaming obscenities under your breath/ out loud.
Hanson’s predominantly lead role is excellent. Like Zeller’s other pieces, we are treated to an incredibly absorbing whilst not entirely likeable (here anyhow) protagonist who we feel for. Hanson’s Michel is a difficult one to figure out. What does he really want from Alice? Is he really as shallow as he seems? His behaviour is atrocious – laughably so – but is portrayed in such a charismatic fashion that you can’t help but be drawn in. O’Connor mocks her lover, appearing to want more than he is willing to give but obviously hiding much from both him and us. Her ‘conversation’ over the phone to husband Paul in Scene Three is a little too forced , but generally she gives an easy and solid performance. Portal’s brief appearances (finishing in an ultimatum with Michel) are good, though it is difficult to decipher whether he is just very dry or acting half-heartedly. Franks similarly only appears in two scenes, yet she handles the downright mental script with much humour and conviction.
The emotion present in Zeller’s other pieces is not evident here. The Truth is outrageously farcical and whilst very clever and funny, can just feel too much at times. Keeping the Paris setting from the original play is a lovely touch and Lizzie Clachan’s simple, mobile set keeps the characters at the forefront of the action.
After reviewing The Father last year, I have every intention of seeing it again, at least one more time. The Truth – not so much. Whilst brilliantly acted, with an enjoyable and clever script, it lacks the depth and power of Zeller’s previous work.
The Truth is playing the Menier Chocolate Factory until 7 May. For more information and tickets, see the Menier Chocolate Factory website. Photo: Marc Brenner