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The Truth (Wyndham's Theatre)

Florian Zeller's comedy transfers from the Menier Chocolate Factory

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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French playwright Florian Zeller is the current go-to man if you are looking for 90 minutes of elegant, perceptive drama that plays games with the slippery nature of theatrical reality. After huge success with The Father, a moving and startling work about Alzheimer's, and The Mother, in which events may or may not be happening, we are now offered The Truth, a play about adultery.

Like his previous English successes, this has been translated by Christopher Hampton and works with smooth, sinuous precision. Unlike them, however, it owes its greatest debt to the traditional French farce. Although both Harold Pinter's Betrayal and a quotation from Voltaire form the play's epigrams, it just as easily conjures boulevard comedies. Its plot is as slim as a Parisian woman, and just as sophisticated, with a faint whiff of the 1950s wreathing its etiolated gestures.

Taking the central idea of two married couples linked by an adulterous relationship between Michel, husband of Laurence (Tanya Franks), and Alice, wife of his best friend Paul, it plays clever, funny games with the idea of truth and lies. Is it better, it asks, for people to be honest with each other, or to lie to save hurt feelings. To say too much more is to give away the twists revealed in a series of slick, sharp scenes that unfold on Lizzie Clachan's versatile and chic set.

Nothing seems to matter too much in this world of cool hotel rooms where trysts between meetings are held, and chilly homes where there is always a bottle of Chablis on the go. No real feelings are hurt or marriages jeopardised. Everything is on the surface, with an antiseptic brightness wiping away any hint of shadow. But great fun is had as Alexander Hanson's magnificent Michel desperately attempts to keep his wife, his mistress and his friend in the dark about his intentions, slipping from a sense of moral betrayal to acute social embarrassment in the flash of an eye, and always managing to focus on the least important aspect of any revelation.

Michel is the type of man whose masculinity is measured more acutely by his tennis playing prowess than his abilities as a lover, and Hanson endows him with exactly the right panicked, absent-minded charm. The scene where he and Frances O'Connor's guilt-ridden Alice attempt to go away for a night together and are pursued by a phone call from Robert Portal's Paul has a blissful comic zest; the delirious momentum of events from that point onwards is a delight to behold. Director Lindsay Posner directs with subtle skill.

It's not exactly profound, but the conflicting ties of love and friendship, and the difficult demands that honesty can make, give you just enough to think about in between the laughter. The entire effect is simultaneously strangely old-fashioned and entirely up to the minute.

The Truth runs at Wyndham's Theatre until 3 September.

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