Review - The Lie at the Menier Chocolate Factory
Florian Zeller has quickly turned into the new Yasmina Reza: another Parisian boulevard playwright who turns out zippy, snappy plays about human confrontations and relationships, secrets and lies. They even share an English translator - the estimable Christopher Hampton - and a penchant, in production, for being set up and interspersed with the same twinkly, cymbal inflected electronic music.
He also gives alternately complementary and opposing titles to his plays: The Mother was followed The Father (both of which were premiered at Bath's Ustinov Theatre before transferring to London), and now The Truth, seen at the Menier Chocolate Factory last year, is being followed by The Lie at the same south London address.
It's another fast and furious portrait of two well-heeled Parisian couples, in which the husbands have been long-term friends and their wives have become close friends, too. Tonight they're meeting for a dinner party at the flat of Paul and Alice - but she's anxious and wants to cancel. Is it because she has a big work presentation to deliver the next day? Or is it because, as she soon reveals, that she saw Michel, the other husband, kissing a strange woman outside a department store just a few hours earlier?
In a play that constantly flirts with what's true and what's false - and asks if it matters that we tell each other the truth - there's a lot of slippery uncertainty in what follows, and it would be wrong to reveal more here.
But as slickly and entertainingly acted as it all is - with a fine quartet of actors led by real-life husband and wife Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond as the host couple and Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbreath as their friends - it feels a little more shallow than it aspires to be. Ultimately a play that keeps playing games with you made me want to surrender and scream: I don't care!
Yes, it is poised and polished; but it is also ultimately pointless, too.
What the popualr press said...
" ...while the new play, in Christopher Hampton’s translation, has the zip and wit of its predecessor, it feels like an elegant variation on a familiar theme." - Michael Billington (The Guardian, three stars)
"What I can say is that I was amused by it, thrown by it, and even left mildly distressed by it too. I think that’s its desired effect." - Dominic Cavendish, (The Telegraph, three stars)
"...the characters were kept at such a distance from reality, and made to feel alien to the audience, that it was never gripping enough." Joe Vesey-Byrne (The Independent, three stars)