David Crook’s latest comedy is a fun, bouncy farce about telling the truth, but does skim the surface of a heavy subject where a deeper look might have shed some valuable insights. Then again, what more should you expect from an out-and-out comedy? There’s plenty of good fun to be had, but don’t go expecting more than that. At the King’s Head Theatre.
Jonathan is a compulsive liar, and his fiancee Mary has had enough. She sends him to see Shane, a psychologist, who tries to cure Jonathan, but this raises the question of whether it is better to lie or tell the truth? Evidently, it’s a combination: Jonathan bumbles from situation to situation, either lying or telling brutal truths in the hopes of finding a middle ground that makes everyone happy.
To be honest, there isn’t much of a story here – we vaguely follow Jonathan around as his compulsive lying and truth-telling cause mayhem to those around him, but there isn’t really much sense of a dramatic arc. At first the plot seems clear: Jonathan is a compulsive liar, and Shane will try and cure him – but then Shane cures Jonathan, and the story twists further into the almost-surreal. I say almost-surreal, because the situations are odd, but not so odd as to be unbelievable. So the main arc concludes about half-way through, and we bumble towards an ill-advised snap ending.
However, I did get the sense here that plot may have been secondary to theme and humour. It’s certainly a very funny piece, with plenty of zinging one-liners and character comedy, especially from Naveed Khan as Sasrutha – a pretty hideous stereotype as the Sri-Lankan corner-shop owner – but it’s played with enough generosity and joy to avoid any offense. There’s also an ongoing existential debate between Tom Radford’s Jonathan and Gary Cady’s Shane, where Shane tries to convince Jonathan of different methods to approaching the truth while Jonathan either religiously holds to the truth or lies about absolutely everything, to the point of ridiculousness.
While this is all good fun (and I will admit that I was chuckling the whole way through), it all felt a little reductive – talking about truth and lies through a character who can only do one or the other is a simplistic device for so convoluted a topic, which is a pitfall a number of rather famous films have fallen into (handily referenced in Crook’s author’s notes), and which left me with the unshakeable feeling of watching a 90s rom-com. It’s not that this is a bad play, but the fact that it doesn’t delve any deeper than a Jim-Carrey style vehicle is a little disappointing; it also doesn’t tie into the way the play is marketed at all, which hints at a darker look at the subject matter.
There’s just no grit to this – it’s the equivalent of a theatrical amuse-bouche. Not to say that it’s not a funny and enjoyable amuse-bouche, but it feels like the entrée to a far greater event.