Two new London theatre productions, The Lie and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, seem to have little in common, save that they are both topics discussed by philosophers. But director Lindsay Posner’s The Lie by Florian Zeller, in a zippy translation and adaptation by Christopher Hampton (at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 18 November), and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (at Wyndham’s Theatre) by Simon Stephens, directed by Marianne Elliott, are both brief (one and one-half hours or so), without an interval, and have very small casts. The Lie is a four-hander, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle a two-hander.
There, any resemblance ends.
In Anna Fleischle’s set for The Lie, a Paris apartment in exquisite good taste (contemporary furniture except for the single, show-off Louis XVI chair), Alice (the stunning, crisp and cool Samantha Bond) and Paul (the intelligence-exuding Alexander Hanson) are expecting dinner guests, Paul’s best friend, Michel (Tony Gardner, who manages to impart just enough sleaze to the role) and his partner, Laurence (Alexandra Gilbreath, who gives the feeling she’s married beneath her).
The problem is framed by Alice revealing to Paul that she has seen his friend, Michel, in a passionate embrace with a woman, not Laurence, in the street. Should she tell the truth to Laurence, rather than busy herself cooking the rabbit intended for their dinner? Paul says no, lying is an act of friendship. So far, so philosophical; but this is only the first revelation of adultery – there are three more to come, each in its very logical order, and the dialogue unfolds like a well-constructed syllogism. It’s French bedroom farce conducted in the tradition of English drawing-room comedy, and very good it is, too, especially in Hampton’s precise, wistful/funny lines.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is not a philosophical play, or even a play about science, more’s the pity. We all know (from Michael Frayn’s great Copenhagen, in which the German physicist is a character) that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that the more precise the measurement of the position of a small particle, the more imprecision is introduced into measuring its velocity – this means that the observer is influencing the behaviour of the thing observed. But this only applies on the microscopic – quantum – level; on the macroscopic, everyday level, probability applies, and risk, reward and behaviour can be predicted, with varying degrees of accuracy, in the usual ways.
In other words, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle has Sweet Fanny Adams to do with this play, which went down a bomb in America – though Marianne Elliott’s gorgeous, lavishly designed (by Bunny Christie) and lit (by Paule Constable) London production is more of a stink bomb.
photograph by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg