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Review: THE LIE, Menier Chocolate Factory

Following their production of The Truth, also by Florian Zeller, the Menier Chocolate Factory, director Lindsay Posner and translator Christopher Hampton have teamed up again for the English language world premiere of The Lie.

Although I didn't see The Truth, by all accounts The Lie is in a similar vein. Two middle-aged couples are living a chic upper-middle-class lifestyle in Paris, but with secrets buried just below the apparently idyllic surface.

The initial set-up is that Alice (Samantha Bond) has spotted her friend's husband in the street kissing another woman. She believes she should tell her friend the truth; her husband Paul (Alexander Hanson) feels it's better to lie by pretending she knows nothing. Unfortunately they don't have time to come to a mutual agreement before the couple in question, their friends Michel (Tony Gardner) and Laurence (Alexandra Gilbreath) arrive for dinner...

Over the course of a rather awkward few hours, the scenario played out on stage flips and twists as each character hints at, confesses to, or retracts their professions of various indiscretions. The trick of Zeller's writing is that it's almost impossible to know whether any one of their utterances is the truth, or a lie.

It makes for a pleasingly topsy-turvy theatrical experience, first having your sympathy drawn towards one character, then realising that maybe you've picked the wrong side:

Alice is principled and concerned for her friend's happiness. Or is she?

Paul argues that lying is an integral part to any relationship. So is he telling the truth to Alice?

Michel loves his wife. But does that prevent him from straying?

Laurence has no concern that her husband is cheating. But is that because she's doing the same?

Hanson's Paul feels like the lynchpin of the play, displaying the dissonance of a man who can't quite decide whether it's better to lie or tell the truth at any given moment. His deft deliveries of the word 'Hm' yield some of the show's funniest moments, too. (Hanson gets extra props for stepping in to replace James Dreyfus, indisposed relatively late in the rehearsal process for medical reasons.)

Bond's Alice is highly strung, while Gilbreath's Laurence has an air of self-assuredness that is perhaps designed to arouse our mistrust. Gardner's Michel lacks a bit of bite, but maybe that's deliberate to keep us guessing about his actions.

The Lie is a short and quite rapid-fire piece - 90 minutes with no interval - and with some snappy dialogue directed at pace by Posner. It's funny for sure, and it'll keep you guessing (at least until the curtain call), but if you saw The Truth, I suspect its impact may be somewhat diminished. For newcomers to Zeller, however, it's probably a fair introduction to his work.

The Lie at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 18 November

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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