Writer: Andrew Bovell
Directors: Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Things I Know To Be True is a modern Australian play by Andrew Bovell, now embarking on its third touring production since its inception in 2013. The play is a co-production between State Theatre Company South Australia and the UK’s own popular and critically-regarded Frantic Assembly. Direction duties are shared between the twin company’s artistic directors Georgie Brookman (STCSA) and Scott Graham (Frantic Assembly).
Although set in Australia this story of one family over the course of a year is completely relatable to UK audiences: our shared cultural heritage erasing any boundaries created by the setting, which is pretty universal in any case. The story of Bob and Fran Price and their four grown-up children, Things I Know To Be True puts family life under the microscope as youngest daughter Rosie returns from a troubled trip around Europe to the family she adores: the family she is not yet ready to leave. She discovers in a few short months that the idyllic and typical family lodged so firmly in her heart is way more complicated than she knew as years of secrets and lies and resentments large and small bubble to the surface and threaten to tear the family apart altogether.
Those of a sentimental turn of mind may find Things I Know To Be True to be a heart-warming and reassuring story of family life as lived today – a familiar story of solidly working class parents struggling to make a better life for their children. Those of a more cynical bent might connect with the realisation that the ties that bind families together survive only at the expense of truth, honesty and ambition, through compromise, lies, personal suppression and sheer bloody-mindedness. Either of these approaches to the narrative delivers satisfying results: family is wonderful and awful at the same time in equal measure.
The strongest performance comes almost inevitably from matriarch Fran, the most fully-rounded character, played with strength and range by Cate Hamer. Retired car assembly worker Bob Price (John McArdle) is more indistinctly drawn, like many reliable men of deep feelings they struggle to express, heading up families actually ruled by their spouse. The four children are vividly-sketched for the most part but also slightly remain as ciphers: Pip (Seline Hizli) who struggles to juggle her own family with her professional ambition; Mark (Matthew Barker) who struggles with his identity; Ben (Arthur Wilson) who has lost his moral compass; and Rosie (Kirsty Oswald) who, in her partial role as narrator, is the most vaguely drawn: mostly because her overwhelming idealised love for her family blinds her to who any of them really are.
The staging is entirely successful, occupying an almost-entirely nocturnal universe: the sky scattered with a constellation of pendant bulbs that fizz oppressively. Props and set elements are scant and appear as and when needed, the cast taking the role of stage hands in bringing these elements seamlessly into play. The staging also makes notable use of Frantic Assembly’s distinctive physical theatre elements – these elements may also be drawn from STCSA’s production style. Family members are lined up or clustered in groups in pools of deep blue light while a lone cast member delivers a monologue. Thoughts and memories and reported action are played out as flickers of activity even as they are reported. And cast members are swept up in effortless lifts that physically express their emotions by the very people inspiring them. These elements create moment of magic that transform the play from soapy kitchen sink drama into something much more poetic and emotionally connective and universal.
Things I Know To Be True is funny, touching, forthright, modern and somehow both realistic and sentimental. Families. We all have them: they’re not always easy to like or to love.
Runs until 7 October | Image: Contributed