Things I Know To Be True
Three River Theatre
Earl Arts Centre
November 15th, 2023
“I know that at home, things are the same as when I left, and they always will be”.
“Home is where the heart is.” Never has that saying felt more apt, nor have I felt it be more intimately sketched through the fabric of a production, as it felt during Three River Theatre’s recent offering, Things I Know To be True, directed by Leigh Oswin. Andrew Bovell’s breathtakingly moving portrait of the Price family, an externally perceived “cookie cutter” family, interrogates the imperfections of a family dynamic determined to successfully obtain the Great Aussie Dream; convinced this is achieved through independence and accomplishment. These things they believe to be true about home; that it can break your heart in the same moment that it can mend it, isn’t fully realised until the whole family come to terms with the notion that physical distance is what can truly fill our heart with hurt and home is the metaphorical heart filled with love, waiting for us to accept it back.
The six strong ensemble work in delightful tandem to encapsulate such memorable and emotionally fraught characters, filled with flaws and imperfections that feel startlingly human to us. Amanda Dawes as Fran Price, the matriarch of the family, leads the way with a fiercely funny wit and motherly bustle that immediately had me feeling at home with the Price’s. Yet, she could produce moments of such devastating cruelty, juxtaposed by despairing acts of kindness, that produced such a highly complex and layered woman, long suffering from her need to provide her children with the lives she believes they deserve.
The four children are all powerfully independent in their own right. Katie Hill’s Pip hoists an image of her mother’s levity when surrounded by the rest of the family, yet her anguish and unhappiness is exposed in occasional moments of heartbreaking silence. Ashley Eyles’s Rosie, the youngest daughter, or the “happy accident,” serves as a narrator; leading us to begin with, through a failed journey in Europe, to watching her discover the world in front of us. She begins full of life and exuberance, the naive optimist believing that independence and adulthood is found through distance, yet by her final monologue, she’s uncovered that what brings the most growth is staying still. Staying in one place and facing the “things she now knows to be true”, gives her character the most pronounced growth arc, and Eyles hits every marker along the way.
The absolute standout however is Robbie Bleakley as Mark, the oldest son of the Price family. This drastically confronting and difficult role needed to be handled with care and respect, and their performance was just that. The character’s struggle with their gender dysphoria was performed with eloquence and care, and while their coming out scene was met with the very difficult to consume transphobic comments from his parents, they handled the anguish and tasteful desperation of the situation without veering too far into aggressive revolt. A moment between Rosie and Mark/Mia in Act Two is genuinely one of the most powerful moments in the play. Mark and Rosie switch watches in a very nonchalant moment. Yet, we see Bleakley’s response to this moment in one simple look, a look that tells the entire story of Mia’s acceptance into being. A pure euphoria that radiates between the two of them, acknowledging the acceptance of Mia for Mark, from not just the heart of one he loves, but also from his own.
Lauchlin Hansen plays Ben, the younger of the two sons and the more financially successful sibling, or so we think, whose unravelling in Act 2 brings with it the unravelling of the peaceful, and at times doddery, Bob Price (Played by Cameron Hindrum). While this scene seemed to have raised the stakes to its bursting crescendo, I found that this scene may have got caught up in its aggression and lost the empathy that had been so prevailing in previous scenes. As we see Bob slowly unravel further after this scene, peeling back the layers from his perceived ‘Perfect life’, he goes from his bumbling but charming and loyal to a fault, father to a 63-year-old man, slowly aging a lifetime in a day. Yet the moment of discovery from a phone call in the middle of the night, needed decidedly more unbuckling. I would have personally loved to see that moment of absolute raging desperation in Bob, however I felt Hindrum held back and restricted himself to ensure he didn’t “make a mess”. I hope that the crew have a larger mess to clean up after closing night, and that Hindrum has given that moment the true grief-stricken anguish it requires.
Leigh Oswin’s direction, while not as flashy as his previous work in A Clockwork Orange, cements his status as one of the best directors for actors working in town. Compassionate and intelligent, Oswin enables actors to be vulnerable in ways that some may never have been before, and the layers of empathy evident in Things I Know to Be True, once again highlight this.
Terry Ryan's set design is elegantly reserved with the vine laced lattice work serving as the bars in the cages holding these wild animals inside. Dr. Deb Malor’s fascinating insight into the backyard setting as a domestic jail, touched upon in her preview night review, helped to see these elements in a new light, and along with Matt Harris’s haunting sound design and music compositions, which were not intrusive yet kept us locked inside ourselves subconsciously, ensured that not only did we feel trapped in this domestic jail with the Price’s, but we felt their lives as deeply as they did themselves.
Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know to Be True, is a stunningly relevant work of new Australian theatre, that draws parallels from the classics, yet dictates the future, by showing us the present. For the Price family, the “Great Australian Dream” turned out to be as simple as loving your family. And when I see shows like this, I realise I too am living the “Great Australian Dream,” but doubled; because not only do I get to love my personal family, but I get to love my theatre family, and be proud of what we can make.
Review By Matt Taylor