Frantic Assembly are a prestigious, internationally acclaimed theatre company, with a distinguished reputation for producing uncompromised and entertaining theatrical visions. Their latest production, Things I Know To Be True, is currently playing out at Leicester’s wondrous Curve Theatre, and is a heartfelt and humorous study of the difficulties and beauties that come from surviving a family unit.
“This garden is the world”, insists Pip, excellently performed by Seline Hizli. Isn’t that the truth. She guides the audience through all of her first experiences that have taken place in this space, a space that has become routine but frustrating to return to. It is hard to resist establishing an immediate connection with her quietly distraught arc, and that can be said for the myriad of recognisable characters that co-director’s Scott Graham and Geordie Brookman bring to the foreground. The observations that the family members denounce of one another through a collection of confessional monologues are often enhanced through use of music that feels revelatory. The monologues feel convincing and honest, and the characters seem to live the roles found in Andrew Bovell’s accomplished script – all involved terrifically condense the chaos of family life into a short span. Such projections of a recognisable family dynamic feel quintessentially British despite being set in Australia; bickering as to whether Fran (Cate Hamer) should still be doing her twenty-eight year old son’s washing feels familiar and offers a realism that other elements of the production do not.
Nuance does intermittently dissolve into exaggeration as the first act progresses – and caricature, on slim occasion, urges the characters to be too emotive in their performance. However, for a play that explores so many stereotypically problematic narrative threads, the theatricality of the line delivery is inevitable, and always entertaining. In the dialogue, the playwright thoughtfully handles every-day drama, from family consolation to understanding the workings of the coffee maker. As procedural family nightmares begin to queue, it becomes prudent to anticipate the outlandish announcement of the characters’ repressed issues and flaws; most importantly of all, secrets. The theme of secrets is important throughout both acts in evoking a family disjointed. Each member keeps the truths of their lives confidential, but as they reunite, this skill to conceal begins to erode. The secrets that begin to spill surface past trauma of memories faked to be forgotten, and heated discussions simmer over into skirmish.
Themes of marriage, independence, ageing and jealousy are equally channelled with domineering skill, while still exploring topical and relevant issues in modern society; though this may risk a congested narrative, such issues are appropriately personalised to the characters, and the cast execute such concerns well. The characters ways of dealing with these topics can incite scenes of threat, a threat that does not always feel real because the violence cannot be portrayed convincingly without actually bordering on harm. While this physicality is not achieved so convincingly, it excels in other respects. The physical disposition that certain scenes demand of the performers is stunning – Rosie (Kirsty Oswald) is recurrently held up by the cast, which looks beautiful, and signifies that the family have all contributed to her persona, and despite differences they will all support her. Symbolism through props is effective through numerous examples; the two flower-beds centre-stage could easily represent the graves that await the mother and father. Their dissatisfaction and growing awareness that the days are passing quicker than ever, and that their children are dispersing, cause feelings to surface and disrupt a facade of connected relationships. Curious is the fact that the parents are foremost to the events transpiring, because it feels as if we are witnessing everything through the tender eyes of Rosie – after all, she is the one that has introduced us into this universe by virtue of a bittersweet and honest monologue.
The superb sound and lighting facilities at Curve were exquisitely manipulated, and really allowed the audience to be drawn into the drama of the production. Both elements really helped to craft the mood and tone of the piece, with the lighting always seeming to soften at the right moments, and the sound always present when vital. The set-design efficiently allowed every scene to remain convincing, with the cast swiftly altering the set stealthily and surreptitiously. Instantly from its foreboding opening, Things I Know To Be True is an engaging reflection upon youth, maturity and the past, with a careful wit that evokes the humorous and complicated relationships explored through the work of British auteur Mike Leigh – John Mcardle’s stunning performance as Bob particularly feels like a Leigh creation. Emotional, energetic and affecting, this is an exceptional piece of work.
Things I Know To Be True runs at Curve until 14th October.