Review by Hannah Fredriksson
There’s no shortage of TV shows and movies set in faraway places like New York and London, so there’s a certain sense of pride I feel when I get to enjoy content made by and about Australians, set in places that feel eerily familiar and close to home. As someone who grew up in Perth (Whadjuk Nyoongar Boodjar), Things I Know To Be True felt incredibly intimate and tangible in a way I’ve never experienced before on the stage.
Western Australian Andrew Bovell has written a moving piece of drama that explores the complexities of family relationships, influenced by his own experiences as a son, father and husband.
Set south of Perth in the suburb of Booragoon, the story follows the shifting dynamics of the Price family over the course of a year. The four kids Pip (Emma Jackson), Mark (Kaz Kane), Ben (Will O’Mahony) and Rosie (Laura Shaw) have grown up and begun to find their place in the world, while their parents Fran (Caroline Brazier) and Bob (Humphrey Bower) find themselves struggling to accept the paths they’ve chosen for themselves.
Touching on themes of heartbreak, gender identity, infidelity and grief, Director Kate Champion has approached this play with warmth and respect. With a balance of vulnerable monologues and well-paced snappy group scenes, the humorous moments come at just the right time to leave space for the heavy blows to have gravitas.
Each of the cast members was incredibly endearing, I was fully invested in what was going to happen next for each of them. Of course family members get to see the best and worst of each other, and throughout the story the Prices found themselves in heated arguments that ended in stubborn stalemates at best and fiery shouting matches at worst.
While the story covered a lot of ground during it’s run time, there are unanswered questions about each kid’s journey of self-discovery. That being said, the story was perfectly whole in its incompleteness - after all, the family is a work in progress, ever-changing, never ‘finished’.
The set design by Zoë Atkinson is brilliant in it’s simplicity, with three main pieces that are re-oriented to view the Price’s living room and alfresco area from different angles throughout the year. The centrepiece is a beige aluminium-framed sliding door, a hallmark of Australian suburbia. It took me back to my parents’ 90s-built house, and with it the memories of growing up there - it gave me a sense of scale for the decades shared by the Price family in the garden that was the backdrop to so many significant and mundane moments of their lives.
On one side of the screen door was an island kitchen bench, and on the other a raised garden bed with five rose bushes kept perfectly manicured by Bob. Perhaps the five rose bushes reflect each of his loved ones, and his determination to keep them safe, whole and happy. In stark contrast, Fran’s favourite tree is wild and unruly, something that can not be tamed - a more honest reflection of her family.
Andrew Bovell has written a wonderfully honest and frank exploration of what it means to love unconditionally despite the worst things life can throw at you, deeply embedded in a Western Australian context. It was incredibly deserving of opening to a standing ovation, and hopefully it sees many more.