FLORIAN Zeller has been called the new Yazmina Reza, but at 36 he has already written far more than his famous older compatriot, whose most successful work, Art, is to be revived by original London director Matthew Warchus as part of his second season at the Old Vic this Autumn.
As well as sharing the same country as Reza, Zeller is fortunate enough to share the same translator, although that seems such a mundane job title for Christopher Hampton, who has brought such masterpieces to the English stage as Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Art, by adaptation or translation, as well as films such as Carrington and Atonement. Hampton is not just a translator, he is a playwright who honed his craft at the Royal Court after his first play, When Did You Last See Your Mother, made him the youngest writer in the West End at the age of 19 – a record he still holds.
Hot on the heels of Zeller’s recent hits The Mother and The Father, both of which had their UK premier at Bath, Lindsay Posner directs this Menier Chocolate Factory co-production, the first in English, of the 2011 play La Verite, which arrives in Bath after a couple of months at the South Bank fringe venue that has had such success with musical revivals recently. Designed with style by Lizzie Clachan as we move between hotel rooms, gym and chic Paris apartments, the play is influenced by Pinter’s Betrayal, as acknowledged by the author, with one character having an affair with the wife of his best friend, and even a game of tennis (rather than the original squash) used as a device and analogy, and it left me wanting to see Betrayal again, as from memory I felt there was more depth in the Pinter, more awareness of deeper effect of the affair on everyday life. The Truth is very much about The Truth, and therefore also about lies, but we are not troubled with too much about consequence and responsibility.
Zeller, with literary assistance from Hampton draws characters with whom we can immediately identify. Although the tale they tell is universal, their names remind us that we are in Paris, with the husband called Michel and his wife Laurence, played respectively by Alexander Hanson, better known to me for his musical prowess but equally at home here, especially his breaking down as he realises he is the least in control of the four, and Tanya Franks, who plays cool, controlled sophistication so well – such a lovely contrast to the sad character she is best known for on the small screen. Frances O’Connor is bubbly, yet pragmatic as Michel’s somewhat dissatisfied lover Alice and Robert Portal is confident and strong as Alice’s unemployed husband, Michel’s best friend Paul. They all provide a solid and believable environment in which we can observe them falling apart, as things invariably do in this comedy of manners that almost slips into farce at times.
Their skilful playing, tightly directed by Posner, climaxes in the penultimate scene, and the play as a whole, much more so than with the works of Ms Reza, seems complete in their safe and experienced hands. Seven short scenes, played to perfection, with a tightly-drilled cast, slick stage crew, clever original music and beautiful lighting make for a wonderful evening of theatre.
Photographs by Marc Brenner