Things I Know to Be True review: A devastating drama about a seemingly perfect family ★★★★

Four siblings and their parents all have something to hide in this brilliant British-Australian co-production

Ewan Stewart as Bob Price (photos by Manuel Harlan)

It is a rare thing for a suburban family drama to resonate quite as acutely and uncomfortably as Things I Know to Be True.

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A co-production between Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company South Australia, it first played at London’s Lyric Hammersmith and toured the UK in 2016. The fact that it’s back so soon is testament to writer Andrew Bovell’s powerful script and how beautifully it’s been staged.

All the action takes place in the back garden of the Price family – mum, dad and four grownup children – who appear conventional and convivial, until their long-harboured resentments and shortcomings are laid bare.

The play is driven by the youngest daughter, Rosie, who returns home to Australia heartbroken after an ill-fated backpacking trip around Europe. Desperate for the comfort and peace of home, Rosie is resistant to change, but truths begin to out and she is forced to recognise the imperfections in the people she loves, and let go of her childhood along the way.

Kirsty Oswald is impressive as the naive Rosie, whose monologues open and close the play and pack an emotional clout. But it’s the scenes between hardened eldest daughter Pip (Seline Hizli) and her punitive mother Fran (Cate Hamer) that sting of the hottest, burning suffering. Bovell reveals the fervent hatreds even in the most intimate relationships, and in the most ordinary lives.

Frantic Assembly's trademark physicality in Things I Know to Be True (photos by Manuel Harlan)
Frantic Assembly’s trademark physicality in Things I Know to Be True (photos by Manuel Harlan)

Ewan Stewart’s Bob Price is devastating, too. In the first half of the play his grief and disappointments are the usual fare of a retired working class father-of-four; in the second they become more unexpected.

Bovell’s dialogue isn’t subtle, but it packs a hefty emotional punch. Frantic Assembly’s trademark physical drama is woven into the narrative sparingly, but to powerful effect, as the family members lift each other up and lean on one another. Their slow dance illustrates their co-dependency, the tenderness beneath the tense arguments.

This production’s searing honesty about family relationships stays with you long after the curtain falls.

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Things I Know to Be True is at London’s Lyric Hammersmith until 3 February, then Bristol Old Vic

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