Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 8 – Jul 21, 2019
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Miranda Daughtry, Tom Hobbs, Matt Levett, Tony Martin, Anna Lise Phillips, Helen Thomson
Images by Heidrun Löhr
Fran and Bob suddenly find themselves in their sixties, and although both have worked hard, there seems little to show for. After having put everything into raising a family, the couple is starting to have to confront their twilight years. With four adult children still struggling to find their own feet, and a marriage that has long lost its lustre, years of sacrifice seems to have delivered little contentment. Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know To Be True is a portrait of one family, in some ways typical of the Australian experience, but certainly not representative of our myriad diversities. More bitter than sweet, this family drama contains excellent humour and a great deal of sentimentality, as though trying to mask the pessimism that it fundamentally contains.
The Price family presents an admirable facade. There is undeniable love, very well depicted by director Neil Armfield, but we are encouraged to question the choices Fran and Bob had made, or more precisely, to question the options they had perceived to be available when deciding to follow the straight and narrow. Fran concedes that she had adopted others’ expectations as her own, that she believed her destiny was to be a mother and nothing else. Now observing her legacy, we see her constantly trying to find satisfaction, usually tenuous at best, with all that she had manifested. The thing about parenthood is that room for regret is virtually non-existent.
The production is incredibly well-crafted, with every faculty operating at levels of excellence, keeping us enthralled from beginning to end. Armfield magnifies all the comedy and drama, for a show determined to entertain, even if its emotional resonances tend to feel highly romanticised. Lights by Damien Cooper warmly lull us into a daze of tenderness, making us a forgiving audience for Things I Know To Be True, almost oblivious to its characters’ flaws and frequent moments of stupidity.
Terribly ordinary people are turned captivating, by a cast of actors brimming with charm. Tony Martin is especially charismatic as Bob, beautiful with the vulnerability that he so effectively depicts, alongside a convincing rendering of archetypal suburban masculinity. The very funny Helen Thomson, who never misses any opportunity to create laughter, plays Fran, a wonderfully complex character, able to sustain our empathy even after some very unkind behaviour. Miranda Daughtry is notable as youngest daughter Rosie, whose unyielding innocence sets the tone from curtain-up, allowing us to see the story with her eyes, often too pure for our own good.
Things I Know To Be True does not intend to be a cautionary tale, but one could be tempted to interpret it as such. Aside from Fran who had worked tirelessly for decades as a nurse, there is no evidence of any great contribution to society or to humanity, in these small, albeit painful, existences. The Prices think about nothing but themselves, and are perhaps unsurprisingly, overwhelmed with frustration and anguish. Fran and Bob were committed to being the best parents, but never found a way to impart a sense of fulfilment to their offspring. If we return to the initial unexamined notion of procreation as an obligatory social and personal imperative, we might be able to draw from Fran and Bob’s story, the consequences of doing things without thinking them through.