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A CurtainUp London Review
The intricate plot opens with Michel and Alice (Frances O'Connor), rendezvousing in a hotel room "between meetings". Alice is married to Paul, who is unemployed after taking severance from his firm.
At first, we think that this is the Parisian way of doing things. Doesn't everyone in France have a mistress and aren't they totally relaxed about extra-marital sex? Not according to Florian Zeller whose creation of the self absorbed Michel should come with a government health warning for women and husbands alike. This man will be bad for your self esteem!
I was reminded watching this modern comedy of manners that Christopher Hampton also gave us Yasmina Reza's long running comedy Art where men fall out about their artistic taste. But we know Florian Zeller is the young playwright of The Father the very successful play which sees a man's dementia from the inside looking out and his dramas have complexity and depth.
Michel is almost a sociopath, an egotistical, narcissistic man who doesn't see the implications of his moral choices but only how he is affected by the actions of others. Alexander Hanson plays the Teflon man with great skill. When confronted by his wife Laurence (Tanya Franks) about his alibi, he lies and deflects and lies again turning every point she makes into aggressive indignation as to why she is questioning his fidelity. He often plays for time, repeating the question put to him while he plays for time.
Michel defends his lies as being kinder than "the truth". What he doesn't consider is not needing to lie because he hasn't been unfaithful. Of course this dilemma is wonderful to watch on stage as his explanations get more and more ridiculous and we see Michel squirm at each sticky revelation.
The Truth is very well constructed and the timing of the actors is quite simply electric. In the very first scene with Paul's wife Alice, Michel talks about decency and ethics and is scoffed at by the audience for his lack of integrity and self perception. There are delicately comic observations: when Alice asks to spend more than a couple of hours with Michel and suggests a weekend, Michel says "How long a weekend?" When they do get away, Laurence has told Paul that she is with her aunt and Paul phones her on her mobile and asks to speak to the aunt. Michel, put on the spot, hams it up pretending to be the aunt and getting it all wrong.
Lizzie Clachan's sliding door set smoothly takes us from hotel room to Michel's home to the tennis club where Paul and Michel regularly meet. There is a superb "tell" in the final act from Laurence which would be a spoiler were I to reveal it. Don't miss this witty and beautifully acted play. If your spouse is having a secret affair and you haven't confronted him or her, then The Truth would be an ideal way to break this conversation. Game on!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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