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Things I Know To Be True

Published 19 September 2016

What’s it all about?

The Price family: parents Bob and Fran, and their four (almost) grown up children. Over the course of a year, we observe their relationships and watch as old wounds and new tensions are brought to the fore within the walls of their suburban home in South Australia.

Far from bland domestic drama, Andrew Bovell’s play offers a touching depiction of the way in which families function, of the intricacy of shared experience and pain between parent and child, and of the agony of loving and being loved too much.

Who’s in it?

Frantic Assembly have pulled together an outstanding cast, who work together so seamlessly as an ensemble that it seems almost wrong to isolate individual performances. However, Imogen Stubbs dazzles as matriarch Fran, the epitome of the hardworking and multitasking mother, who understands her children with a look and who functions as the family lynchpin. As her children rebel and struggle, she fizzes with anger, constantly delivering cutting remarks that are all the more painful as we know they are motivated by soul-consuming love. Her dynamic with her eldest daughter, Pip (Natalie Casey), is particularly mesmerising, their interaction stinging with pent up bitterness.

Ewan Stewart is also delightful as Bob, a working class father utterly devoted to his children, who sees no further than his perfectly tended garden. While his wife cajoles and admonishes, frantic and furious, he remains calm, concerned and occasionally baffled by the actions of his offspring. His gentle air of confusion about modern life (“I don’t need coffee machines and leaf blowers when a rake does the job just as well and I drink tea”) generates some of the play’s best humour – look out for a great extended joke about driving to the airport. As a result, his moments of anger and hurt are all the more upsetting to watch, and seem by far the clearest sign that the family is on the point of irreparable fracture.

What should I look out for?

Frantic Assembly are known for their innovative use of physical theatre, and the play is dotted with small, yet exquisite, moments of movement. As Rosie dreams of a love affair, she is caressed by disembodied hands, and is lifted up high in moments of ecstasy. As Bob and Fran dance on their anniversary, each child joins them for several steps – conveying the depth of their love with the briefest of touches.

Andrew Bovell’s script captures the tone and nature of large family encounters expertly, recreating the sense of chaos and joy that abound whenever siblings and parents reunite. There is a rapid patter of conversation, with insults, jokes and admonishments bandied about at breakneck speed, all brilliantly delivered by the whole cast. Despite the largely comical air, these moments give huge insight into the tensions that form an essential part of the family structure, forming the basis of the tragedy yet to unfold.

In a nutshell?

An elegant and moving portrayal of what it means to be a family.

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Will I like it?

While interpersonal relations form the crux of this play, Things I Know To Be True goes well beyond the domestic sphere to ask big questions about the world in which we live: the nature of responsibility, the space in between black and white, generational and class divides, and how we see ourselves. By discussing these issues in the home setting they become even more poignant and troubling, as we see the way the outside world seeps in, irrevocably impacting the relationships onstage.

Despite its specific setting in the suburbs of Adelaide, all of the actors use their regional British accents, a strong reminder that the issues discussed do not belong to any one time or place. Families and the joys and trials that they bring resonate with all of us – we can all see something of ourselves and our parents in the scenes on stage.

In the chaotic world in which we live, the list of things we know to be true is inevitably short. What we do know are our families; those we grew up alongside, those we respect and those we resemble. The play beautifully articulates the ties that bind us to our parents and siblings, both loving and destructive. Tender, evocative and quietly devastating, Things I Know To Be True is a reminder of where we come from, and what truly family means. Pack your tissues.

Things I Know To Be True runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until 1 October. To book tickets, visit the official website. 

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