Robert Portal is currently playing Paul in the UK premiere of Florian Zeller's play The Truth.
Directed by Lindsay Posner in a new version by Christopher Hampton, The Truth officially opens at the Menier Chocolate Factory tonight (16th March) for a limited run to 7th May. The cast also includes Alexander Hanson, Tanya Franks and Frances O’Connor.
Robert returns to the Menier where he previously appeared in Communicating Doors (also directed by Lindsay Posner) and The Common Pursuit.
Just a few of Robert’s theatre credits include: Phileas Fogg in Around The World In 80 Days (St James), Paulais/Henri in Grand Guignol (Plymouth), Evelyn in This Was A Man (Finborough), Henri Paillardin in A Little Hotel on The Side (Bath), Walpole in The Doctor's Dilemma (National), Hannay in The 39 Steps (West End), Victor in Private Lives (Bath/UK Tour), Thomas MacGreevy in Calico (West End), Maurice in Tom And Viv (Almeida) and Gary Le Jeaune in Noises Off (West End).
For the RSC he has appeared in Henry IV, The Rivals, Loves Labours Lost and The Merchant Of Venice. For television, Robert’s work includes Psychoville, In Love with Barbara, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, Margaret and Ashes to Ashes; and for film, Six Days, Mr Turner, Kids in Love and My Week with Marilyn.
I recently spoke to Robert about what makes The Truth such a fascinating play…
Following the success of The Father and The Mother, everyone is talking about Florian Zeller. What were your first impressions when you looked at The Truth?
I loved it! I thought it was a really exciting play. It reads and plays very quickly – we’re doing it without an interval. It was a page turner, the audience are taken through twists and turns and don’t know where they are. It’s a play I would love to see… but sadly I can’t see it because I’m in it [laughs].
Robert & Alexander Hanson in The Truth
The Father and The Mother centred on dementia and depression respectively, what can people expect from The Truth?
People who have seen The Father or The Mother will find what I call Zeller-isms in our play. If there’s one word to describe it, I suppose it would be adultery. It’s about one man’s deceit to his wife and best friend. It’s funny as well, interestingly Florian Zeller called The Father a farce! He calls all his plays farces [laughs]. This isn’t a farce, but there are moments of lovely comedy.
Are the audience kept on their toes?
Yes, absolutely! That’s the point of the play – the audience will think they are on top of things but they’re actually not. I don’t want to say too much about it because if you come and see it you will see why. It’s very cleverly written.
It was odd because there are two couples in the play, but the two women and myself only act with Alex Hanson who is the lead. At first we only saw each other on the stairs going in or out of the rehearsal room to say hello [laughs]. It almost felt as if the three of us were in different plays! I had no idea what the other scenes looked like until we did our first run. It was fun!
Are you enjoying playing opposite Alex?
Yes he’s great; Alex has got his work cut out for him – it’s a massive part and he didn’t have long to learn the lines but did brilliantly. I think at first he felt like a rabbit in the headlights which is a feeling I know all too well, but luckily I’m not carrying this one so have been able to take my foot off the gas a little bit.
You’re returning to the Menier where you’ve worked a couple of times before. How does it feel to be back?
The atmosphere is great, artistic director David Babani and everyone have done a fantastic job in a relatively short space of time. Many of their musicals transfer not only to the West End, but also to Broadway. That has a great cache for plays. This is my third play here and there’s always such a buzz, I have loved coming back. It’s so intimate too!
And I imagine that’s perfect for a piece like this?
Here the front row are inches away from us and that’s exciting. People can really get involved, and that’s an experience that we share together. I’ve seen some wonderful plays but sat right far back and felt slightly removed which is something you could never feel at the Menier.
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
The Truth runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory to 7th May 2016.
Please visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com for further information and tickets.