Things I Know To Be True – Oxford Playhouse

Writer:Andrew Bovell

Directors:Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham

Reviewer: Katy Roberts

A collaboration between the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Frantic Assembly, Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know To Be True invites us into the lives of a seemingly perfect family, who turn out to be anything but, with searing and devastating effect. First premiered in early 2016 in Adelaide, the production has been recast with British actors, including Imogen Stubbs, Ewan Stewart and Natalie Casey, for the UK tour. Somewhat strangely, the action still takes place in Adelaide, but the Prices are now a British family, complete with varying accents (Fran is northern, as is daughter Pip, and Bob is Scottish) which feels a little jarring to begin with, but which soon passes, and what remains is one of the most blisteringly powerful and heartbreakingly beautiful family relationships one is likely to see.

The play follows Bob and Fran Price, and their four children – Pip (Natalie Casey), Mark (Matthew Barker), Ben (Richard Mylan) and Rosie (Kirsty Oswald) – over the course of a year. Pip, the eldest, is married with two children, Ben is a high flyer in an accountancy job, and Mark is in a stable relationship with a long-term girlfriend. So far, so normal, but then Rosie, the youngest, returns home suddenly after being left heartbroken while on a gap year in Europe. It is Rosie’s predicament which sets the play in motion: the Prices begin the play as a seemingly-perfect family of six, but steadily, as a number of shattering revelations are revealed, Bob and Fran, and the rest of the family, must try to figure out how to deal with each new blow.

Imogen Stubbs as Fran is outstanding in a tour de force performance as Fran; the fiery and slightly spiteful matriarch of the family whose bitterness at the utter inescapability of her suburban life erupts in occasionally callous outbursts at her children. This anger and pent-up resentment is showcased particularly during Pip’s story arc within the play, portrayed with terrifying fury by Natalie Casey in another wonderful performance. Pip resents her mother’s favouritism of the other childrenand despises how hard her mother has always been on her and this explodes in one particularly alarming scene to forceful effect.

As youngest child Rosie, Kirsty Oswald perfectly captures the character’s youth and naïveté as we watch her grow up onstage, and try to come to terms with the imperfections she discovers in the people she loves most. Ewan Stewart’s portrayal of Bob is an absolutely stunning portrayal, full of quiet wisdom and abundant, overwhelming love for his family. In one particularly devastating scene towards the play’s end, Bob and Fran reflect on how they imagined their futures and the futures of their childrenwould be: family barbecues, a house ringing out with the sound of laughter, full of noise and love. But instead, their disappointment at where they find themselves is delivered in a speech by Bob, filled with overwhelming sadness and regret: “It wasn’t meant to be like this. I thought they’d be like us. But better than us. Better educated. With better jobs, and better prospects. That’s what we worked so hard for. Wasn’t it?”

Frantic Assembly’s familiar style of movement is used quite sparingly throughout the play, but this is no disappointmentbecause the end result is breathtaking. Characters hold and lift each other up between scenesas if somehow expressing through movement all the words the family cannot bring themselves to say to one another. They may drive each other away with barbarous words, but they hold on so tightly with every movement of their bodies. Nils Frahm’s minimalist soundtrack weaves through the atmosphere onstage, creating warmth and the sort of piercing melancholy you feel deep in your chest, which, accompanied by Geoff Cobham’s mesmerising lighting, creates an extraordinary intimacy.

This is an absolutely stunning production, performed by an outstandingly strong cast, and with an ending that knocks you for six, demonstrating the strength of unconditional love among family, no matter how fractured or distant. Ito see this play and t would indeed be remiss of anyone seeing thisnotto want to pick up the phone to their parents or a loved one, to say, “I love you”, or, simply, “Hello”. An unmissable production that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.

Runs until 8 October 2016 | Image: Manuel Harlan

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