Neil Armfield has noted that family is the central theme in my work but in Things I Know to be True the focus on it has never been sharper. The seeds of this play are located in my own childhood, growing up in country towns in WA and in the suburbs of Perth as one of four children. Here, I began to understand the joys and demands of familial love. This understanding has deepened by the experience of bringing up three children of my own with my partner Eugenia.
The play began to take shape in an early workshop at the State Theatre Company in Adelaide. Co-directors Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham and I began to map out an emotional world with a group of six actors. We told each other stories about family and life and getting it wrong and getting it right. And we took those ideas into a series of improvisations, which provided the DNA of the work. Most of these actors remained with the project, which premiered at the Playhouse in Adelaide in 2016. These included the late Paul Blackwell, Eugenia Fragos, Nathan O’Keefe and Tilly Cobham-Hervey who were joined by Georgia Adamson and Tim Walters. A role is often shaped by the first actor to play it and I thank them all for their work. It was Tilly in fact, who provided me with the title of the play when she told a story about making a list of the things she knew to be true after having broken up with a boyfriend whilst travelling in Europe.
The play is about transition and change and I found the shape to treat this theme within nature. It is set over the course of the four seasons in a single year and takes place primarily in the back yard of the family home. In each season the focus shifts from one child to another as each struggles through a crisis of identity. But the focus is on the impact each crisis has on their parents, Bob and Fran.
Theirs is a story of a resilient marriage. They are working class parents who have worked all their lives to ensure their children had more options than they did, only to discover that the choices their children make reject the values by which they have lived. It is a bitter irony and central to the Australian story. But the sympathy of the play does not lie solely with the parents. Love is a powerful force. At its best it holds you through life. At its worst it is a form of control. Here, we see four strong minded children struggle to define themselves beyond the expectations of their parents. Things are said and hearts are broken but they remain a powerful force as a family at the end of it. There is a line at the end of the play that pretty well sums it up. “She thought about love and how sometimes you could give too much and sometimes you couldn’t give enough and knowing the right place in between wasn’t easy”.
I’m thrilled that the play has come to Belvoir in its second Australian production under the direction of Neil who, like me and so many of us was brought up, not in the great interior and not in our cities but in that vast place in-between – the suburbs. This play is a homage to that place.
For more information and to buy tickets head to the official page of Things I Know To Be True.