Review: Things I Know To Be True (Storyhouse, Chester)

 

Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know To Be True is a superb Australian play that was a big hit on the London stage last year. The touring version that’s at the Storyhouse this week is the original production (a collaboration between Australia’s State Theatre Company and the UK’s Frantic Assembly) but with a revamped cast.

The story’s set in Adelaide but the actors don’t attempt to replicate Australian accents, perhaps to emphasise the play’s universality – the idea that this could be any family, anywhere. The family in question are Bob and Fran Price, and their four grown-up children (two sons and two daughters). The action, which takes place over the course of a year, is rooted in the family home, but we also learn about the journeys the children have taken away from it: journeys that are emotional as well as physical, as they have grown apart from their parents and struggled in different ways to establish their own lives and identities.

Rosie, for instance, is the youngest daughter and, while only on the threshold of adult life, has – geographically at least – travelled the furthest. She’s been on a backpacking trip around Europe and has returned home prematurely. Fran, with a mother’s intuition, immediately senses that ‘something’s happened’. The audience already know what that is, and as we encounter Rosie’s siblings we find that all four of them are at some kind of crisis or turning point in their lives. Marital breakdown, struggles with sexual identity, criminal behaviour…When Bob recalls the dreams he once had for his children’s future we realise his idealistic ‘happy families’ expectations have been shattered by the realities of flawed humanity. Bovell might sometimes seem to be piling on the misery a little too much, but the play as a whole effectively lightens things up with a surprising amount of comedy.

The exploration of the characters’ predicaments has tremendous emotional truth and is very moving. The portrayals of Bob and Fran’s marriage, their relationships with their children and the children’s relationships with each other, have a similar power and conviction. Tenderness, spite, jealousy, compassion, disappointment, resentment, love – the complexities of human interaction are compellingly evoked.

The cast rise magnificently to the challenges of an emotionally searing drama. That excellent Liverpool actor John McArdle (seen in the still at the top of the page) was sadly unwell for this performance, but Scott Graham was an able substitute as Bob, a loving and well meaning father whose life has had its own setbacks. Cate Hamer captures well Fran’s struggle with conflicting feelings of love and anger. Equally impressive are Kirsty Oswald, Matthew Barker, Seline Hizli and Arthur Wilson as the four children, all with distinct personalities brought vividly to life by the actors.

As well as having terrific, emotionally charged dialogue, the play makes inventive use of physical movement, with wordless sequences that have their own eloquence and emotional force. There’s also a strikingly designed set, a suburban garden which alters over the course of the play. It successfully gives the play a domestic grounding, while also suggesting the passing of time, the inevitability of change and the cycle of life.

When this play opened in London it was recognized as a major theatrical event, and now local audiences shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see this fine, thought-provoking drama.

**** Ordinary family life laid bare in an extraordinary play

Things I Know To Be True continues at the Storyhouse, Chester until Saturday 11 November 2017.