Andrew Bovell’s 2016 family drama Things I Know to Be True has maintained a continued resonance with Australian audiences as evidenced in at least three productions across Sydney in recent years. In the most recent iteration, a fear of change forms the central focus as the Price family faces a year of growing up and letting go.
Bob (Ian Boland) and Fran (Julie Moore) have four kids who are all officially adults but, until this year, they’ve had deep ties to the family home in Adelaide and the memories made in their beloved backyard which meant they kept coming back. Now, things are changing. Rosie (Freya Moore) has had a taste of freedom after a gap year in Europe, Pip (Georgia Britt) encounters someone who makes her think she settled for the life she has, Mark (Giani Leon) has worked up the courage to live authentically from now on, and Ben (Jordan Andrews) has made the biggest mistake of his life so far. As each of their children wanders further away from the nest, that leaves Bob and Fran to finally face each other and themselves and answer some of the questions they’ve been avoiding.
Under the direction of Carla Moore, Bovell’s script was familiar in the way sharp words and silences between family are. Even in moments of ease, a sore memory or harsh advice were close at hand. But Moore was also particularly interested in the parents as the solid figures at the centre of the family unit. Drawing upon the old tree in the Price’s backyard, Moore designed an abstract set dominated by a large black and white mural of a tree, painted by Michael Arvithis, with stretching branches mirrored in burrowing roots. At the same time, the lighting design by Wal Moore used delicate bare lightbulbs dangling throughout the tree branches which added a fragile quality to the production in complement to the permanence and strength of the old tree. In this way, through the design and Moore’s direction there was a sense of balance in this production that further reflected how the parents experienced equal and opposite reactions to the explosive choices of their children.
Rosie, as the first introduction to the Price family, was played sophisticatedly by Freya Moore with a self-awareness to the character’s naive limitations but, equally, to her loyalty and love. Rosie was frequently the fetcher or message-carrier for the rest of the Prices and Moore’s eye-rolls at her designated family role were winning. On the other hand, where Pip is usually played as angry and resentful, particularly in combat with Fran, Britt gave the older sister a twinge of sadness and fear that injected an interesting vulnerability into her characterisation. Andrews and Leon as the sons performed with an air of lost youthfulness whereas Boland’s father figure was lost in a resigned kind of way. The gender dynamics of this production definitely amplified Bovell’s implication of strong women guiding weak men. Julie Moore’s version of Fran had the customary hot-headedness but with a softer approach that worked in most scenes but left others trying to juggle awkward escalations, like her sudden turn against Mark in a crucial moment.
The Price family aren’t averse to time and Fran even looks forward to getting old with Bob. But what they can’t stomach is change; navigating unexpected events and, especially for the parents, letting go of controlling the outcome. Bovell’s family is a recognisable one but this production particularly drew on their resonance as people weathering change and recognising the symbolic truth of a tree’s roots and branches: they grow in tandem, up goes with down, change comes with growth, and safety needs risk.
Things I Know to Be True is running at the Theatre on Chester from April 22nd – May 14th
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