Florian Zeller is the man of the moment, following the West End, heart-wrenching smash hit that was The Father, and the equally involving The Mother at the Tricycle. Now he brings us The Truth (or not the truth, as the case may be). All three are acutely translated by Christopher Hampton. All three are composed of Zeller’s other-worldly ability to take a situation so guttingly real, so coaxingly involving, and yet so full of questions and so full of things that seem obvious – then unravel it into something that may or may not be the actual reality. The Truth very much upholds this almost unfathomable technique, but it does so for the singular purpose of good, solid entertainment. It is less thought-provoking than its counterparts, and less tear-jerking, but it leaves us no less on the edge of our seats and, what’s more, it replaces those tears with unadulterated laughter.
In a way that ability is even more impressive. How can comedy so overt that it borders on farce sustain so much suspense? At the end of nearly every scene, Zeller reveals that a secret is about to be revealed, without revealing it until the next scene. That’s only step one. Step two sees him lulling us into a false sense of security: we collectively think “oh, I see where this is going”, and then he adds layer after layer to that journey – layers that we didn’t know were coming, laced with comedy and revelations.
Even the plot points we see a mile off manage to maintain their humour. This is largely down to one performance, that of Alexander Hanson’s Michel, who, I think it’s safe to say, carries the whole production. Michel is egocentric, lovably arrogant and emotionally inept. He is married to Laurence (Tanya Franks), but having an affair with Alice (Frances O’Connor), who just so happens to be his best friend, Paul (Robert Portal)’s wife. And believe me, that is by no means the end of the twisted cycle of the infidelity. I bet I can guess what you’re thinking: “sounds like something I’ve already seen”. Close? It is the love child of Pinter’s Betrayal and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It is undeniably familiar and of course that’s why so many elements are guessable, but who cares? It’s hilarious. I mean, what is wrong with going to the theatre and laughing your absolute socks off for an hour and a half as Portal throws out his charm and perfect timing, only to have you leave walking on sunshine?
Portal’s unflappable prowess, matched by Zeller’s ingenious methods of wrapping truth in swaddling clothes of deception until you can’t see which the reality is any more, makes for a bloody good night at the theatre.
The Truth is playing at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 3 September. For more information and tickets, see the Delfont Mackintosh website. Photo: Marc Brenner