Writer: Andrew Bovell
Directors: Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham
Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty
Having grown into one of the UK’s most prolific theatre-makers, with shows such as the stunning Love Song and the tough Beautiful Burnout, Frantic Assembly is back with its newest production. Things I Know to be True is a collaboration with the State Theatre Company of South Australia, and it is exquisite.
The play is an intricate look at family life where nothing is as it seems. Following the Price family over the course of a year, each member is concealing troubles that shatter the family as they unravel. Younger daughter Rosie (Kirsty Oswald) returns heartbroken from her trip around Europe to discover her sister Pip (Seline Hizli) is leaving her husband and children for a new life in Canada.
Cate Hamer is unrelenting in her incredible performance as the slightly bitter and overbearing matriarch, Fran. Holding onto each of her four children with some level of control, she is most fraught with her elder daughter Pip (Seline Hizli). Their scenes are raw and utterly heartbreaking as they know each other more than they realise, and are more alike than they’d like to admit. Their battles are a stark reminder that the greatest fury stems from the fiercest and unconditional love – one only ever seen between family.
The boys, Mark (Matthew Barker) and Ben (Arthur Wilson) are both deeply struggling with identity in different ways. How Fran and dad, Bob, react to each of their revelations is almost distressing to watch as the boys just want their love and validation. Both moments, though littered with laughs, are so real they draw you straight into their suffering.
John McArdle as Bob holds the family together quietly and can usually be found tending to his rose garden. Watching the plants grow over the course of the play, until they are ripped angrily from their roots, symbolises the splintering of the family, but eventually the start of a new normal for them.
There’s a wonderful familiarity with Frantic productions, where it all feels very natural no matter what is happening on stage. This show is character driven to its core, clearly born through their love of improvisation. The physical theatre aspects are of course brilliant and executed wonderfully as ever, though in this production they aren’t the focus: the physicality is used sparingly and makes the moments of stillness much more impactful. Here, it is clear the co-directing between Frantic’s Scott Graham and State Theatre’s Geordie Brookman has balanced out very well.
Andrew Bovell’s story could easily spill into melodrama with everyone bitterly hating each other at the end, but thankfully it is constructed perfectly and is very funny. It’s very much a play about love and that we sometimes love far too much, something that Rosie struggles to understand or control.
Keeping the original setting in Australia but casting British actors feels a little odd at times. While it does highlight that the themes of the production are universal, some of the cultural references are jarring – but not enough to get in the way of the flow too much.
Frantic Assembly knows how to pack a punch without going over the top. Belly laughs one minute before gut-punching emotion the next, with an ending that will have you in tears. It’s not unusual to have left the theatre exhausted in a good way and this is one of those times. A bold and wonderful piece of theatre.
Runs until 14 October 2017 | Image: Contributed