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Things I Know to Be True

by on 21 November 2018

Joyful, Painful, Honest

Things I Know to Be True

by Andrew Bovell

Wild Duck Theatre at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 24th November

Review by Georgia Renwick

Has there, or can there ever be such a thing as a ‘normal’, quiet family life? Andrew Bovell’s 2016 Australian-British play tears right to the heart of the family unit in this suburban drama brought to life by the Wild Duck company, in searing, tear-jerking style.


The play opens with Rosie, the youngest of four children, returning with a broken heart from her gap-year travels in Europe. Mum, Fran, quickly assembles her brood of grown-up children to welcome her home, but before Dad, Bob, has even handed round the cups of tea, the bickering has already started and the excuses pour out. “Oh, I can’t stay…”, “Just popping in…”, “That’s my cue to go…”. One by one they return to their lives and Bob and Fran are left with just one little bird in her nest. It’s an incomplete family picture; where are the Sunday afternoon BBQs they imagined? The weddings? The grand-kids? They’ve raised their children to believe they could have anything they wanted, and now they’ve gone out and taken it, what happens when they’re left behind? The fractures only widen, the further away they get.

Set in the suburbs of Adelaide, Australia but conceived with the Adelaide State Theatre alongside Frantic Assembly, a British company renowned for their physical theatre work, Wild Duck has brought to the OSO stage a topical, relevant naturalistic drama peppered with sections of choreographed movement, devised by the company. As a young breakaway company themselves (Director Susan Conte has 6+ previous years’ experience directing) Wild Duck is deservedly garnering a reputation for presenting bold, intelligent, contemporary work. Having appeared at the Lyric, Hammersmith only this year, Things I Know to be True is hot off the press.


Bovell has crafted a play of such startling honesty it is by turns joyful and painfully uncomfortable watch; at once heart-achingly tender, and biting. The ongoing battle of generational difference is fought over the big stuff: gender roles, love, money and social class, comically punctuated with instantly recognisable family micro-dramas, such as where all that Tupperware gets to, or whether it’s high time your 24 year old son should be ironing his own shirts. Whether you are a parent yourself or not, you were once a child, and perhaps felt too the pressure on your generation to make things better than the last. If this play were set in a British back garden you can be sure Brexit would be on the cards, but nonetheless every generational obstacle they face in suburban Australia is relatable. There are multiple generations in the audience tonight, and where the laughs come from is telling!


The material plays to the strengths of Wild Duck, whose young talents, Ben Dimmock and and Berenike Kahane have both shone in recent Wild Duck productions The Distance and Picnic at Hanging Rock respectively. Kahane brings a sensitive fragility to Rosie, who at 18 is precariously balanced on the daunting cusp of adulthood. Dimmock lends a buoyant but frantic energy to early-20s son Ben, who is caught up in the flow of life by forces he soon finds are beyond his control.

As the threads of the family start to unravel towards crisis point at an alarming pace, by Act Two Bovell’s tightly wound structure begins to read like a series of worse case scenarios. It reaches a point where I feel it would be beyond the realms of possibility to expect anyone to cope, without at least a nervous breakdown, but the resilience of the Wild Duck cast to the demands of the material is a truly impressive achievement.


Dorothy Duffy’s Fran Price is a true matriarchal battle-axe. As a nurse, she frequently reminds us, she has seen it all before. Duffy’s fierceness does not ask for sympathy, and yet … Meanwhile, some challenging questions surrounding our expectations of ‘masculinity’ are raised by James Lloyd Pegg’s understated portrayal of Bob, her husband. His quietness speaks volumes.

The set design (Marc Pearce) and technical elements in this production also have a lot to say. A life-size bow of a tree sweeps over the top of the stage, unruly and untamed, and struck by the most deliciously warm and nostalgic light, the magical quality of light that captures the golden hour of a summer’s evening in a childhood memory. Borrell’s writing, enraptured by the cyclical nature of things, is also realised in the cool blues and crisp whites of the seasons as they pass. Exceptionally gorgeous work from lighting designer Katie Nicholl.


The physical theatre elements succeed in communicating a lot, without a word, set to the contemporary sounds of Joe Evans. Simple acts such as touching a hand, or buttoning up a shirt, are brought into clearer focus. How they connect in with the more naturalistic elements of the play, is left to our own imagining. They add another dimension, but visually do not linger in the mind as long as the emotions that surface.

No family looks exactly like we imagine. It is an organic thing shifting and changing and growing like the bow of the tree that sweeps across the stage. But if there’s one thing this family know to be true, there’s nowhere like the familiar chaos of family in a crisis.

Georgia Renwick
November 2018

Photography by Marc Pearce Photos

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  1. Things I Know To Be True | Mark Aspen

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