The Adelaide Review visits the Dunstan Playhouse’s rehearsal space to get an insight into State Theatre Company’s first international co–production, Things I Know to be True.
Actors walk past, crouch under, lift and caress a central figure, Rosie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). She tells a story of romance and heartbreak from a naïve jaunt in Berlin while she remembers her own family back in Hallett Cove. It is moving, and highly physical. The memories she describes coincide beautifully with the movements she makes, or that are made around her. A soaring musical score accompanies her words and movements as she glides across the stage. Then everyone stops. “ There are some nice connections there, bordering on the literal,” says Scott Graham, Creative Director of Frantic Assembly, one of the UK’s leading theatre companies. Graham is in Adelaide for the final rehearsals of Things I Know to be True. The play, co-produced by him and Geordie Brookman, will mark the first international co-production for the State Theatre Company of South Australia. The co-production has come about through the natural collaboration of three leading creatives: Graham, Brookman and lauded Australian playwright Andrew Bovell, whose work has gone on to be adapted to screen, most notably in the case of the seminal Australian drama, Lantana. “Geordie and I met a few years ago,” Graham says, “and we always wanted to work together. Andrew had been talking to Geordie about doing something di fferent, and I suppose that’s where I came in.” As creative director of Frantic Assembly, Graham has presided over the growth of the critically acclaimed theatre company, described as “the most innovative and progressive company around” by The Times and “vibrant and visceral” by The Independent. Indeed, Frantic Assembly and Graham’s work is unconventional for the modern theatre scene. The company’s productions are always highly physical endeavours, where words mean just as much as a character’s movements, and sometimes more. Where many companies aim for a certain ambiguity and interpretive license in their work – or slide toward a cinematic style of presentation, complete with complex e ffects, sound and lighting – Frantic Assembly puts the human body at the centre of the action. “Any touch is as complex, or more as any text. Audiences are very clever at reading body language on stage.” Graham explains that Things I Know to be True was written specifically with this collaboration in mind, and this production will not simply be an adaptation of a text to a highly physical stage production. “I don’t feel that you should throw movement at a text,” he says. The play itself centres on a family from Hallett Cove who appear to be living in a dream, but whose experiences grow darker and more complex as threads of the real world weave their way into their lives. Graham says that the complexities of their lives need not be told just through dialogue, but also through movement. That is not tosay Things I Know to be True is a wordlessshow. Far from it, Graham a ffirms that Bovell’s “beautiful” script is given plenty of space to breathe. “A lot of people see the work of Frantic as solely movement, but I love and appreciate texts. My background is text. I majored in English literature.” He says that audiences are more sophisticated than some give them credit for. They read the complexity of movement and body language incredibly well, Graham says, which explains why Frantic Assembly invests heavily in physical theatre. Watching the rehearsal, one can see that the actors taking part are occasionally flummoxed or even frustrated by Graham’s approach. Of course, actors are not always trained in the art of precise movements verging on contemporary dance. Asked whether using actors, rather than dancers, for theatre where movement is just as important as dialogue, Graham simply says, “I love it.” “I love working with actors. I like training people up. It makes for quite a hard rehearsal process, but you can end up with this beautifully nuanced movement and fragility that you don’t always get from a dancer.” He says that the rehearsal The Adelaide Review just watched was more of a sketch of the final product. “We need to play – we need to sketch this stuff out to find that inspiration.” Things I Know to be True Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre Friday, May 13 until Saturday, June 4 statetheatrecompany.com.au *The original article misspelled Andrew Bovell’s last name. This has been amended.