Review by: Nadia Ribot-Smith
‘Things I Know to be True’ played for the first time tonight at stage@leeds. Following the lives of a working-class Australian family, it delves into the complex relational drama that exists at the heart of every household, and lays bare a raw and honest portrayal of a family struggling to navigate each other as the life they know begins to split at the seams.
From the moment I took my seat I was stunned by the set’s meticulous attention to detail. Stretching back into the depths of the stage, the design is picturesque. The perfectly imagined suburban home is complimented by gorgeously constructed lighting to create an image as visually entrancing as it is essential. Even before the actors enter on stage there is a sense of unease. Accents of saturated red in amongst the otherwise charming landscape glow like warning signs. As we sit, smoke seeps out, dissipating across the stage and further adding to the nightmarish dream-like quality.
Rosie (Niamh Walker) Fran (Meg Ferguson) Bob (Josh Murphy) Mark (Evan Harris) All photos taken by Abby Swain
This is a production which not once takes the audience’s attention for granted. In the first scene, Rosie (Niamh Walter) recollects the story of her first heartbreak. Helped by a dynamic use of score and gorgeously designed projections, this monologue evolves into an immersive, arresting sequence which unfolds like a memory being recalled in real time. It’s an unrelenting first sequence which draws you along with its almost drunken quality. A stunning use of movement is employed to add depth and interest and create a sense of emotional dynamism, as well as introducing us to the characters which will soon form the core of the play. Time and again, the tension falls, only to be built back up again resulting in an opening, punch to the gut, sensory spectacle which grips your attention and doesn’t release it until the end of the show.
Ben (Seb De Pury)
However, as much as the show knows it can dazzle, many of its most impactful moments occur in its more performance driven scenes. It is the ability and range of the cast which defines the soul of the show, providing layered and authentic performances which consistently meet the demands of an emotionally challenging script. This is a true masterclass of performance and whilst each actor stuns in their individual moments, this is undeniably an ensemble piece. The consistent staging adds to the sense of claustrophobic, mounting pressure. As we watch the characters collide and conflict, their performances bring an essential truth and sensitivity to a number of pivotal scenes.
But throughout, it is Walker and Poole’s directorial vision that underscores the entire experience. The strength and boldness of their choices not only produces a play that provides a platform for all cast and crew to stun individually, but also consistently serves to elevate Bovell’s already expertly crafted script. In what can only be described as a directorial tour de force, they time and again demonstrate not only a passion for their medium, but an uncompromising commitment to the crafting of mood and tone. Their choices are laser sharp in focus, demonstrating an intimate understanding of how best to service the story.
Rosie (Niamh Walker) and Pip (Erin Carney)
Overall, ‘Things I Know to be True’ stands testament to how theatre can be far greater than the sum of its parts. Every element is individually excellent, but it is in how they come together that the strength of the play is revealed. The lighting, the performances, and the masterfully handled shifts in mood all create the feeling of a pulsating, unfurling world.
The play received a standing ovation, and I started my walk back home. But the cocktail of complex and conflicting emotions still lingered on my mind. Like all good theatre, ‘Things I Know to be True’ invites you to broaden your perspective by gleaning insights into worlds as complex as they can be imagined. Its effect and impact will stay with you well after the curtain falls.
Things I Know to be True’ has tickets available for the 12/03/2022. Tickets can be found via this link.
Rosie – Niamh Walker
Fran – Meg Ferguson
Bob – Josh Murphy
Pip – Erin Carney
Mark – Evan Harris
Ben – Seb De Pury