REVIEW: Things I Know to be True (Lyric Hammersmith) ★★★★

things-i-knowPremiered in Adelaide, Australia, this co-production between Frantic Assembly and the State Theatre Company of South Australia is now showing at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Andrew Bovell’s poetic and bold play is a touching portrait of a family through the eyes of the children, who know they have to go their own way, which might not match their parents’ expectations.

The play begins – and ends – with an ominous phone call at dead of night. Bob gets up, hesitating to take the call because it is bound to be terrible news. Which one of his children is in trouble? He picks up the phone – and the scene changes to Germany. Bob’s youngest daughter Rosie has been travelling around Europe and is spending some time in Berlin where she meets Latin lover Emmanuel, a beautiful creature and the man of her dreams. Rosie is on cloud nine but Emmanuel uses her and robs her blind, leaving her heart-broken and without her technical gadgets. As Rosie returns to her hometown in Australia, the focus shifts from her to her family.

The Price home seems a place of calm and respite, a “Garden Eden”, lit in warm colours. While Rosie recovers, her older sister Pip is trying to escape her dull life. She will be moving to Vancouver for professional (and other) reasons, leaving her husband and children behind. Her mother Fran is livid with rage about her daughter’s selfishness but her anger seems to be fuelled by that fact that Pip is doing what she was herself considering but never acted on. Rosie’s favourite brother Mark is going to reveal a secret that will most certainly alienate his parents. 28-year old Ben, who regularly drops off his laundry at his parents’ house, works in the financial sector, living above his means to impress his rich friends who do not rely on their salaries. Ben is living in the moment, not worrying about the future, but his careless attitude has serious consequences.

The play describes the tricky mechanisms within a family, the need to leave the nest and live your own life, and the parents’ frustration when they realise that their children waste the chances they have provided for them. There is always the danger that a story about these themes might slip into melodrama and become a soap opera but this production is on an entirely different level. The writing is poetic and touching yet unsentimental., the characters rich and genuine.

Directors Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham have their cast speak with British accents which might be preferable to fake Australian accents. The touch of Frantic Assembly is noticeable in various beautifully choreographed moments, for example when Rosie is carried by the other actors, flying to heaven whilst talking about her experience with Emmanuel. Geoff Cobham’s beautiful design transforms the stage from an empty space to a rose garden, illuminated with a warm glow – the Price home. Nils Frahm’s otherworldly musical score adds to the enjoyment of the production.

Imogen Stubbs dominates the play as Fran. Seemingly all-knowing, the senior nurse is the true head of the family, angry and frustrated but with a deep love for her husband and children: “It’s a mother’s job to make her children cry so they understand pain.” Ewan Stewart inhabits the part of Bob, a retired car-worker, who has always dreamt of spending more time in his garden and now finds that his days have become much too long. Kirsty Oswald is lovely as the sprightly, childlike Rosie, Natalie Casey and Matthew Barker also impress as Pip and the conflicted Mark, Richard Mylan gives a convincing performance as Ben.

A production that must not be missed.

Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin

Things I Know to be True is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 1st October 2016