Friday, 20 October 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Samantha Bond and her real-life husband sparkle in a fiendishly clever comedy of truth, lies and infidelity

Written by Georgina Brown
Let’s be brutally honest. We all tell tiny white lies all the time. Because we’re much too nice to tell someone that, yes, their bum really does look massive in that hideous frock. And it’s better that way. But what about the really important stuff: marital infidelity. If you (a woman) spotted a best friend (male) kissing another woman in the street, would you tell his wife?

This is the starting point of French dramatist Florian Zeller’s latest, fiendishly clever comedy. At least, it seems to be, for the truth is extremely hard to pin down in the chic Paris apartment where a couple are having a drink before a dinner party. Alice (sensational Samantha Bond) is married to Paul, played by the excellent Alexander Hanson – in real life as well as in the play, which adds another frisson to the whole business of truth and fiction and pretending. Alice is fretting: she has seen an old friend kissing a woman who is not his wife. Should she tell the wife? Paul thinks not.

Actually, when their guests, Michel and Laurence, arrive and Alice finally comes out with her dilemma of to-tell-or-not- to-tell, Laurence (the wonderfully breathy Alexandra Galbreath) says that if she was the wife of the unfaithful kisser, she would prefer not to know. Her husband Michel (Tony Gardner, enigmatic – or is he hiding something?) agrees, maintaining that people would prefer to be fobbed off with a lie than confronted by a disagreeable truth. Paul goes further: ‘If everyone told the truth, there wouldn’t be a single couple left on earth.’ Which prompts Alice, when the guests have gone, to put a bit of truth- telling into practice. ‘So you’ve never cheated on me?’ she asks him. ‘Mm?’ says Paul.

Hanson’s loaded, panic- stricken ‘Mm?’ as he plays for time and, doubtless, prays for inspiration, evidently wishes a hole would open into which he and his guilty secret could disappear, is the most delicious moment in Lindsay Posner’s slick production. In a matter of seconds, Paul is skewered as both a cheat and a truly lousy liar. And so prompts the exposure of their marriage - and, ultimately, that of Michel and Laurence – as a web of deceit, duplicity and betrayal.

The same characters (a strong word for what are essentially ciphers) appeared in Zeller’s earlier play, The Truth, a sort of companion piece to this one, which contributes to the sense that The Lie is a rather brilliant dramatic exercise, but also explains its emotional aridity. And while the cast delivers it with terrific aplomb, it proves oddly unsatisfying, like a tasty amuse-bouche rather than gastronomic feast.

At the Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1 until 18 November: 020-7378 1713, www.menierchocolatefactory.com


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