Things I Know To Be True is at once a grand international co-production and an intimate story firmly rooted in Adelaide’s geography and psyche. Set in the maelstrom of the Price family’s life in Hallet Cove, the show is yet another chapter in the Australian family drama tradition.
It is not a timeless piece, with so many of the conflicts that the characters encounter being ripped almost verbatim from the newspapers. Think transgender issues, the manufacturing decline, corporate embezzlement, intercontinental parental separations. These are the issues of the day, and they resonate with the audience, eliciting boisterous laughter and tears in equal measure. Andrew Bovell’s condensing of so many headlines into one family does stack the play heavily with drama, perhaps unrealistically so for one household. Yet in their telling, often through lengthy monologues paired with Frantic Assembly’s trademark movement, they feel more like vignettes of the broader condition of Modern Australia. We are watching a family disintegrate, yes, but this family is as much a reflection of its audience as a singular cohort. The Price family’s anger and confusion comes in stark contrast to our first introduction to them. Told through the eyes of the family’s youngest daughter Rosie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) we see a life laden with nostalgia. Backyard parties, playful teasing and all-encompassing love apparently bind them all together. Yet soon after her return from a jaunt in Europe, the veneer begins to peel away, as long festering resentments, secrets and desires make themselves known. Aside from those headline themes, there is an undercurrent of the battle between responsibility and freedom within each character. The parents in particular, played with alternating tenderness and ferocity by Paul Blackwell and Eugenia Fragos, are torn between their own desire to chase their dreams, the care they owe to their kids, and what they are owed in return for their lifelong work raising a family. Everyone feels like the world owes them something, but they also owe the world everything. Movement and music wonderfully augment these realisations. The hectic revelry of Rosie’s return to Hallet Cove is accompanied by furniture sliding across the stage, a subtle but soaring soundtrack from Nils Frahm and perfectly choreographed synchronicity in our cast. Geoff Cobham’s effective and minimal design where the turning of a table and dimming of lights can signify the transition between two continents also services the action well. The set is built up as the play goes on, and their lives are deconstructed bit by bit. Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham’s dual direction is well integrated in Things I Know To Be True. Comedy is injected throughout, bringing flashes of levity when needed, and in-jokes poke fun at Adelaide to bind us to the characters. Evocative movement accompanies the most emotional moments of the play, layering the story with body language and subtext that complement Bovell’s dense dialogue. The acting is just as strong, with the cast drawing complexity out of characters that could have been written off as archetypes embodying anger, lust and naivete. Things I Know To Be True is a moving and beautifully crafted piece that succinctly captures the dilemma present in so much of contemporary Australian life and family. 4.5 stars Things I Know to be True continues at the Dunstan Playhouse until June 4 adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au Read The Adelaide Review‘s interview with co-director Scott Graham here Photos: Shane Reid