6 Min Read

Completely Enthralling: Things I Know To Be True

Family is messy, unpredictable and can be heartbreaking. Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know To Be True is a powerful examination of “typical” family dynamics, prompting us to question what family really means.

While a short scene, opens the show it’s Laura Shaw’s first monologue as Rosie which really kicks things off. Laura is engaging and with minimal movement, pulls us into Rosie’s world in a way that allows us to imagine everything she is telling us. She is the entryway into the Price family, returning home to Perth from what she perceives as a failed Europe trip.

As we meet the parents Bob and Fran along with Rosie’s three other siblings Pip, Mark and Ben, we find joy in the archetypal banter between family members. The audience erupts in laughter as we see the same lines repeated by each character as they greet Rosie who has surprised them by her arrival home. We continue to laugh as Andrew’s script points fun at the cliché conversations we all have with family with everyone seemingly fitting into the roles we expect.

All of this, of course, is just the surface of who these people really are and what they’re going through. Within the space of a scene change this happy family display is shattered with the first of three impactful conversations where Bob (Humphrey Bower) and Fran (Caroline Brazier) are confronted with life changing news from their children. Here is where we really see the complexities of these characters and some impeccable performances.

Things I Know To Be True. Photography by Daniel J Grant.

Caroline Brazier’s Fran is the story’s most complex character. She is a woman who knows she has fallen victim to society’s expectations of women and mothers. It’s evident she has been continuously battling regret over her decision to stick with the status quo and remain unhappy for years, reasoning “for the kids”.

It’s a polarising experience watching her as an audience member, we understand why she was unhappy, but we do not condone the ways she has dealt with her unhappiness; in particular her violence towards the eldest daughter Pip. Caroline is utterly convincing in her performance as Fran, she leads us on a conflicting journey where we toe the line between hating her but also relating to her.

Counteracting Fran is Bob, the dad, played by Humphrey Bower. Bob fits into the “fun dad” category, the mum says no- dad says yes type, but like all of Andrew’s characters, he’s more than one-dimensional. Humphrey makes Bob immediately likeable through fantastic delivery of humorous lines which indicate his increasing disconnect from the current world and new technology. Bob is dedicated to doing the right thing and has lived his life playing by the rules and wants things to stay the same, somewhat selfishly. Humphrey allows us to see that Bob is, above all, motivated by the love for his family and his inherent fear of losing them. Both Bob and Fran have unconditional love, but we see that love manifest in completely different ways.

Things I Know To Be True. Photography by Daniel J Grant.

As we meet the rest of the family, it becomes clear that Director Kate Champion has crafted a true family bond on stage. They behave like any family would, with a level of comfortability that allows them to insert quick snide remarks or comebacks. Of course, we see the love between them too but that doesn’t override the tension bubbling under the surface for each of these characters.

When the time comes to bring these issues to the light, there’s a commendable level of authenticity and tenderness brought by Emma Jackson (Pip), Kaze Kane (Mark/Mia) and Will O’Mahony (Ben) to their performances. It’s reflective of how people change their behaviour under pressure and when at breaking point.

The set, designed by Zoë Atkinson, features a patio door that revolves around the stage by being pushed by the performers. It’s the only constant piece of set on stage throughout the entirety of the show as the other pieces, such as a kitchen and garden beds, are pulled on and off by the performers. This transforms the space for each scene while remaining inside the Price’s home. It’s continuously engaging while mirroring the ever-changing family circumstances.

Things I Know To Be True. Photography by Daniel J Grant.

The play is set over one year with seasons changing accordingly, which is reflected subtly in Zoe’s set design. Each season focuses on one of the Price children, each has their own monologue and related scene with the parents and Rosie who’s involved as a side-line spectator. The set does not distract the audience from using their imagination to picture what each character says in their monologues. Sometimes the set feels like it blends away, other times it subtly enhances what we’re hearing such as Mark/Mia telling us about hiding in a tree as a child, while propped up on the kitchen island, sitting similarly to how they might have sat in that tree. We’re pulled further into this world by building part of it ourselves.

As an audience we’re trained to expect the issues we see in stories to be resolved. In this play, that’s not the case. It ends with the same message that is reinforced throughout, things will change no matter what you do to try and control them. The things you know to be true in your life are finite and change, grief and healing are not linear.

Andrew emphasises that the notion of the perfect family doesn’t exist. Instead, family is a gamble and there are too many variables to try and control. Things I Know To Be True is a vessel that prompts self-reflection all while taking on you on an enthralling and conflicting emotional journey.

Please note Things I Know To Be True contains confronting scenes with depictions and mentions of violence and transphobia. The current content warning reads: Mature themes including grief/loss, coarse language, use of herbal cigarettes and theatrical haze.

Things I Know To Be True is presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company and on now at the Heath Ledger Theatre until June 18.