Writer: Andrew Bovell
Directors: Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent
Things I Know To Be True offers a view into a domestic setting that, while maybe not identical will be familiar to all who experience it. It scrutinizes the cruelty, joy, spite and love we reserve only for our very nearest and dearest. Andrew Bovell has been rigorous with his dissection of the modern family and the resentment and hope that can be handed from generation to generation. His synthesis of love and hurt is one that is universal and timeless.
Originally performed in Adelaide this production has been re-cast with British actors but the script has been left unchanged. The play is born of a collaboration between Frantic Assembly and the State Theatre Company of South Australia, and a seemingly equal collaboration with two co-directors; South Australia’s Geordie Brookman and Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham. While the British actors talk of moving to Sydney and saving their dollars this is no way distracting and can even emphasize the suggestion that family is family wherever you are. The idea that on the other side of the world families are laughing and fighting like your own can make you feel both relieved and warmed.
As one would expect the breathtaking movement work that Frantic are so renowned for is used beautifully to elevate the story. Some elegant passages of sustained movement and some moments punctuated with striking tableaux. A smooth floor allows the actors to glide props and set into the space and move with ease, emphasising the clockwork runnings of a household so in tune to each other that they move with effortless synchronicity.
Much of the story is communicated with monologues from each of the characters. The first monologue comes from Rosie (Kirsty Oswald) the youngest, whose gap year in Europe has ended in disaster and has sent her back to the ever open arms of home. She’s greeted warmly by each family member as her other three siblings rush home to be together again. This picturesque scene is only brief and it then becomes Pip’s (Natalie Casey) turn to divulge herself and confront her Mother. The chain of events is then set into motion and in turn each child comes forward to confess to their family and attempt to escape the suffocation of their parents expectations. But isn’t that ever generations job? To want better for the next.
The ensemble is robust and there are many moments of exquisite acting. Natalie Casey uses her timing to deftly move the audience from laughing to tears as she portrays the oldest sibling with wit and profundity. Imogen Stubbs is fierce and loving as the imperious mother and Ewan Stewart gives a poignant portrayal of Bob the father who yearns to give his children everything that he never had and in turn must watch them leave to explore the world they’ve been promised. He is heartbreaking without ever being saccharine.
The set is haloed by 131 bare light bulbs that can evoke a nostalgic air about the family as they laugh and dance together. Stark spotlights are used to cut through this glow to target specific moments. Set and lighting designer Geoff Cobham described his set as being like a “cave” and it certainly has an insular, protective feel to it. However, the subtle outlines on the backdrop is designed to either look like the deep roots of a tree or sometimes the thousands of lights in a city far below making the real world seem outside of this families sphere.
Andrew Bovell has said that in escaping the clutches of his own family home he has found himself straight back there in his writing; “I have spent my life yearning for the thing I ran away from”. This intense depiction of a domestic life is deeply tender and brutally honest. Frantic assembly have been moving closer to text work in their latest ventures and when the writing is this good they are able to tell the story with passion and sincerity and stay true to their vision as a company. This is a piece of theatre that was blessed with all of the right ingredients. A very special play.
Runs until 12 November 2016