Things I Know To Be True
Lyric Hammersmith then on tour
16 September 2016
Book Tickets For Things I Know To Be True
There is no point in mincing my words when it comes to this production, and therefore I will refrain from doing so. It is stunning. Simply stunning. Rarely do I leave the auditorium with tears in my eyes, quite unable to articulate how I feel. This is not simply down to the climax of the piece, but, frankly, the construction and execution of it as a whole. When a production does not give me an “opt out”, but sucks me in despite my attempted note-making, I know that I am watching something truly special. And Things I Know To Be True is certainly that. Special.
Things I Know To Be True is a co-production between Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company of South Australia, and the Artistic Directors of each company (Scott Graham and Geordie Brookman respectively) co-direct. The production premiered in Adelaide earlier this year, where the play is set, and whilst the production has moved continents and the cast has changed, the setting remains the same. Although a British cast has been used for this part of the run, all geographical references remain. A decision has been made for the performers to use British accents, which serves to bring about a blurring of location highlighting the universality of the themes we encounter, making it more immediate and personal to a home audience.
Throughout the evening we see a year in the Price family house unfold, and what a turbulent year it proves to be as the parents’ aspirations for their children are not realised and each of the children, in turn, must make the decision to forge their own paths and suffer the consequences associated with them. The production opens with a blank stage, all theatricality is exposed. All that fills it are a multitude of pendant lights, which are used flawlessly to enhance the story (set and lighting are both strikingly designed by Geoff Cobham). Gradually, through the course of the production, the company slowly constructs the back garden as the family negotiate their chosen paths. Whilst each of the children’s journeys may seem overly dramatic when sat side by side – one heartbroken, one walking out on her husband, one struggling with his identity, and another involved in illegal activity – the commitment from the company makes them entirely credible.
The cast is incredibly strong, exploiting every subtle moment of humour or pathos expertly penned by Andrew Bovell. As they navigate their way through moments of direct address, heightened physical metaphor and more naturalistic action, the comedy – and tragedy – of the piece are perfectly served by the ensemble’s confident, charismatic and accomplished approach. No moment is wallowed in – pace is the key player – and any less than happy moments are not gratuitous, but character-driven. Rosie, the youngest of the children, is wonderfully embodied by Kirsty Oswald, and whilst her journey might be seen as the less dramatic of the siblings, she somewhat provides a backbone to the piece either as participant or observer. Her moments of direct address are perfectly pitched and incredibly endearing. Each character in turn as we near their major decisions has an opportunity to connect with the audience, and as they do, we are drawn further and further in. Fran is a force to be reckoned with as the matriarchal figure in the family, and her plight, captured strikingly by Imogen Stubbs is all too painful to behold as we see a mother struggling to communicate openly with her children. It truly is a stand out performance. Her retired husband, Bob (Ewan Stewart) provides the perfect sparring partner in every sense through the light and the dark, as bombshell after bombshell is dropped upon them.
The physicality is beautifully interwoven with the plot, the scene changes, the characters dialogue, their dreams, their aspirations. They possess a lyrical, dreamlike quality expressing the characters’ innermost desires – and they prove beautifully emotive. Seeing characters caressed by disembodied hands as they remember a past encounter with a lover, witnessing them lifted above head height and carried as their feelings yearnings rise to the surface, feels integral in moments where words will no longer suffice. Yet, as with much of the production, these moments of physical work are used in a variety of ways and are littered with humour: from slick, sliding furniture scene changes to slightly abstract reactions of the children listening to their parents recount how one of them was conceived.
This, in part, is what makes the production such a success. With a subject matter that could so easily become riddled with sentimentality, it is brilliantly constructed, continually averting that potential outcome. Andrew Bovell skilfully avoids this all too easy temptation and even in the deepest moments of sobriety and emotion, humour is never far around the corner, which makes the whole experience all the more affecting and the cast collectively shine in their investment to the plot. The rhythm and content of the dialogue gives us such a strong sense of ensemble and, ultimately, family, making the emotional rollercoaster of a ride all the more thrilling. The tragic inevitability in scenes such as Pip (Natalie Casey) or Mark’s (excellently portrayed by Matthew Barker) altercation with their mother all the more poignant.
Families are complicated and messy, nevertheless, family dramas when captured correctly can be hugely touching. No matter what our background, we all have emotive views about ‘family’, and those connections usually run deep. Brookman and Graham have made Bovell’s already vital story come to life in such a way that the actors’ performances truly soar. I defy you not to be moved. This, in short, is a blistering production with universal appeal. All I can say is; go! You will not be disappointed.