The Lie, Menier Chocolate Factory, London, review: French farce on fidelity sits uncomfortably between tragedy and comedy

Florian Zeller’s follow up play to 'The Truth', directed by Lindsay Posner, contains affecting performances, but the overall result was not entertaining enough to be a light fancy

Joe Vesey-Byrne
Monday 09 October 2017 08:21
Samantha Bond and Alexander Hanson star in The Lie at Menier Chocolate Factory.
Samantha Bond and Alexander Hanson star in The Lie at Menier Chocolate Factory.

Would you tell your friend if you knew their spouse was being unfaithful? Is infidelity just the price of a lengthy marriage? Is dishonesty better for love?

Alice (Samantha Bond) has seen something she shouldn't have, and her husband Paul (Alexander Hanson), although apparently shocked, thinks it best she kept quiet about it. Hanging above them, decorating their well to do Parisian apartment is an image of Kallisto, the nymph who, according to myth, was seduced by Zeus, and then was transformed into a bear by his jealous wife the goddess Hera. So you get the idea that the evening's dinner party might not end well.

Yet what followed this intriguing set up was an uneasy blend of unrealistic farce and caustically inflicted emotional wounds. The Lie felt disinterested in exploring in depth the meaty subjects at hand, or creating much investment in the characters. Alexander Hanson as the generic husband Paul admittedly makes a piggish character more attractive with his comic delivery, and Hanson humorously portrayed Paul’s descent into utter exasperation, teetering on madness with great skill, but at times his performance was too comic, and too unnatural, given the subject matter.

While one would rather not stereotype an entire people, perhaps the cultural shift around matters of infidelity from French to English makes the idea of affairs land with more sobriety with an English audience. The result was that the moments of humour felt more jarring than seemed the intention.

Samantha Bond as Alice in 'The Lie'

The Lie opens up an interesting dialogue about fidelity and honesty, and the reality of the monogamy of marriages, but then diverts its attention to a game of cat and mouse between Paul and Alice, as deception upon dishonesty builds. While characters ought not to be mouthpieces for a philosophical discussion, it felt like an opportunity missed not to explore the subjects the play’s opening laid out. Equally, as Zeller did not flesh out the central couple, it was difficult to care about any of these characters, and therefore the fact their relationship might be in jeopardy never felt like much of a crisis.

There were snatches of brilliance in amongst some of these more plodding elements. The tense moments of lies or accidental confessions were executed well enough that you suddenly noticed you had been holding in your breath. Moreover, Zeller keenly observed how an argument about another couple’s relationship quickly reveals itself as a proxy war. Yet the characters were kept at such a distance from reality, and made to feel alien to the audience, that it was never gripping enough. The Lie, although containing moments of comedy and of emotional angst, could not decide which it would rather be.

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