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Things I Know to be True review at Lyric Hammersmith, London – ‘beautiful and devastating’

Imogen Stubbs and Ewan Stewart in Things I Know To Be True. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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In Andrew Bovell’s devastating play, Things I Know to be True, the ideal of the nuclear family is detonated – or, rather, systematically destroyed.

Across the span of a year in a suburban Adelaide home each of the four Price children, the eldest married with two children and the youngest just returned from a gap year, makes some shattering revelation to their parents. Mum and dad work have to out how to deal with each new blow.

Frantic Assembly brings its familiar brand of movement to the production, but there’s something especially touching about that tactility here. The way the family lift and support each other between scenes is a physical expression of what they fail to say. While they drive each other away with words, they hold on so tightly with their bodies.

This use of movement is matched by six wonderful performances. Imogen Stubbs’ Fran is particularly strong, a slightly spiteful harridan of a matriarch whose bitterness at the inescapability of middle class life erupts in occasionally callous interactions with her children. Then there’s Ewan Stewart as dad Bob, a wellspring of quiet wisdom and abundant love. Bovell captures the clash between duty to one’s family and to oneself in these rich characters.

Whether it’s Nils Frahm’s shimmering minimalist soundtrack blanketing the stage with warmth and melancholy, or Geoff Cobham’s mesmerising lighting with colourful, but not gaudy, pools of neon painting each scene like a picture, every element builds to create a piece of extraordinary intricacy.

In one particularly devastating scene, Bob and Fran reflect on their imagined future of family barbecues in a home full of noise and love and children. Bovell’s play deliberately destroys the possibility of happy families. It’s a beautiful production, jointly directed by Geordie Brookman and Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham, with a hell of an ending – a powerful look at the coexistence of narcissism and unconditional love in family life.

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Frantic Assembly brings its signature magic to a beautiful evocation of family life