A murderer comes to the door and asks whether a friend of yours is in the house. You either tell the truth or lie; either way you can’t predict the outcome exactly, but in Kant’s theory of Universality it is ideal and necessary that you tell the truth despite putting your friend’s life in jeopardy. In The Truth Teller Kant’s argument was profound and powerful enough to end the compulsive lying of Jonathon, who up til then couldn’t utter a word of truth. Tom Radford in the role of Jonathan was playful, although slightly two-dimensional, and the comedy lines were executed expressively. His Irish girlfriend, Mary, carefully portrayed by Martha Barnett, gave Jonathon’s role a convenient subject of innocence and ignorance for his lies to play out too. However, after many final chances, she gives him the option of continuing the lies or keeping her. Kant’s logic proves effective on the patient of therapist Shane, played by Gary Cady. Cady’s tanned complexion and floppy Eton hair were suitably attractive, but he was also lecherous in this role. His character embodied the over-arching irony that a compulsive liar is being ‘cured’ by an equally dishonest society.
The script is skilfully written by David Crook; he uses impressive metaphorical and flowery dialogue to show how ordinary people water down the truth through the habit of dishonest language. This wordy and elaborate way of speaking successfully exaggerated the essential nonsense that comes out of our mouths every day. Although the play was snappy, I found the jokes and puns a little too predictable at times, mainly because the basis of the comedy always entailed Jonathon elaborately lying or telling the truth bluntly and inappropriately, in an almost autistic manner. Shane’s secretary and younger lover, Lucy, was played by Sammy Kissin and the newsagent Sasrutha was played by Naveed Khan. Both characters mixed up the predictable pattern of the comedy. Kissin wore an overstated stereotypical outfit of a ‘sexy secretary’ yet her character became interesting when she started name-dropping Augustine and Aquinas as the two pillars of Christianity. Her raspy voice and laid back approach were quite calming, contrasting the role of Sasrutha which was brilliantly comical and energising.
Direction by Svetlana Dimcovic ensured that the characters weren’t completely subverted in the face of the prevalent comedy, and I enjoyed the old school music choices that contained appropriate lyrics in the scene transitions. The main set consisted of two wooden chairs that were put to simple but good use creating Jonathon and Mary’s home, and Shane’s office. The aesthetic treat was saved for the newsagent’s scene, in which Sasrutha switches on flashing fairy lights that decorate his till, but otherwise there was little for designer Christian Taylor and Stage Manager, Jake Oxford to do. The strength of this performance is its script and humour; don’t be deceived by the photo used in the advertising which involves a distressed young man attached to a lie detector, suggesting a slightly sombre and 1984-esque play. In reality, the play is nothing of the sort; the light comedy manages to raise some testing questions about honesty and the way in which we habitually use language to warp the truth to avoid a flat out lie. So is the absolute truth better? The Truth Teller avoids deciding.
The Truth Teller is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 6 May. For more information and tickets, see the Kings Head Theatre website.