The light is low, and the mood is mellow. The opening motions are slow, delicate, deliberate. It is a physicalised state of grace that the audience senses must come to an end. There are too many bodies, too many thoughts, for this tranquillity to continue.
And, as expected, it doesn’t.
Things I Know to Be True, directed by Alice Foley and Marie Rimolsrønning, captures one family’s desperate struggle with life’s certainties – growing up, getting old, selfishness, love and change — and the contradictions that saturate their suburban home in Adelaide, causing tensions to rise and simmer like a volcano, eventually erupting into inevitable explosions. These concepts of contention are abstract, yet the play does a wonderful job of capturing them visually and physically by telling the story through the subtlety (and blatancy) of movement. The script presents the story, but the actions are visceral and urgent. Time, that intangible motion, and the violence brought with it, is embodied – creating an undeniably sensational atmosphere.
The children’s narratives appear sequentially, each beginning as a loose thread that unfurls into streaks of dramatic intrigue. These are sandwiched between the reactions of their parents, Bob (Matthew Storey) — dopey, foolish, our source of comic relief — and Fran Price (Amelia Watson) — confrontational, vicious, but furiously loving. The audience is presented with a confident family portrait, painted with the strokes of different brushes and thick with conflictive textures – a credit to the cast’s collective dynamic and the plot’s powerful coherence.
Maddy Chisholm-Scott’s performance as Rosie seizes a substantial amount of the play’s narrative, yet it is the backstories of her siblings that appear thicker and more substantial. The pace and energy invested into Rosie’s tale of a broken heart could have been shared amongst some of the more striking stories, such as Mark/Mia’s (Matthew Sedman) struggle with gender identity — a topic that the play deals with gracefully, its emotional repercussions well executed by Sedman. The growth of Pip (Erin Bushe) into an independent woman also could have benefited from further exploration, and Ben’s (Liam Bradbury’s) drug/theft habit also trickles into periphery when Bob and Fran decide to scrutinise their marriage – a shame, as Bradbury’s performance oozes more depth than time allows.
As the action unravels and Bob and Fran’s children uncover more of their internal dilemmas, the scenes find themselves becoming cluttered with a highly charged conflation of shouting and screaming which impedes audience understanding. Some scenes drag on, ever so slightly squeezing the feeling out of them. A few moments could have been more powerful with less volume, and some with no volume at all.
Such perceived shortcomings are admittedly potential points of merit. Depending on one’s view of the play’s intent, Things I Know to Be True can be seen to capture the overwhelming friction constituting the daily life of a typical family, complete with electric bust-ups, collisions of shrill voices and overlapping screams. For the audience member seeking naturalism, these scenes accurately recreate how our bodies respond to the ones we love. Regardless, Things I Know to Be True is affecting, and whether comfortably or uncomfortably, the audience is emotionally hauled onstage.
Things I Know to Be True runs at Bedlam until the 12 October.