Australian playwright Andrew Bovell is renowned for relationship dramas, including When the Rain Stops Falling and Speaking in Tongues (which became cinema’s Lantana). Things I Know To Be True is another, and soon to become a TV series starring Nicole Kidman.

This new production directed by Kitan Petkovski, who returns to Theatre Works after last year’s In the Club by Patricia Cornelius, doesn’t always make the most of Bovell’s dramatic tension. Belinda McClory’s performance is consistently powerful, however.

Belnda Mc Clory and Ben Grant in Things I Know To Be True. Photo © Andrew Bott Photography

Set in Adelaide, where it premiered in 2016, Things I Know To Be True follows a pivotal year for the suburban Price family. Fran, a nurse, and Bob, who took a redundancy package from a car manufacturer a while back, have worked hard to build a good life for their four now-adult children.

Rosie returns early from what was supposed to be a life-defining gap year in Europe, while Pip makes a major change to escape an unfulfilling marriage. Ben is trying hard to fit in with his with high-flying colleagues, including by purchasing a flashy new car, while Mark’s personal revelation shocks everyone.

It provides an explosive conclusion to Act I, which is at times plodding. Act II is stronger, offering fresh revelations and building on this drama’s foundation of flawed but loving relationships. We better understand why Fran, for all her emotional insight, is often emotionally distant, even cruel, and the inner life of nice guy Bob, who devotes his unexpected retirement to gardening.

Just as Fran is the strong force holding the Price family together, McClory’s interpretation of her is this production’s sun. Her performance is restrained and nuanced, with hard tone of voice, rigid posture and stony looks contrasting with occasional moments of softness. She demands the audience’s attention even when not speaking.

Tomas Kantor, Ben Grant and Joss McClelland in Things I Know To Be True. Photo © James Reiser

While the rest of the cast are somewhat overshadowed by McClory, they interpret their distinct characters well. Ben Grant endears us to Bob with his sweet, slightly bumbling ways, and even more so in moments that reveal this man’s sense of loss and ineffectualness.

Tomáš Kantor (seen recently in Matthew López’s The Inheritance at fortyfive downstairs) sensitively shows us Mark’s vulnerability and determination, and Eva Rees the youthful uncertainty and watchfulness of Rosie.

Brigid Gallacher’s finest moment is the evocative voice of Pip in a letter to her mother, while a slightly too tense Joss McClelland plays Ben like a tightly wound coil that suddenly unspools.

Bethany J Fellows’s set is a backyard fence that encloses the stage on three sides, but for four simple entries to the wings. Over the course of the play’s two hours (plus interval), its blandness, barely relieved by occasional bits of outdoor furniture, seems to suck energy from the performance.

Cast members sometimes look lost within this confined, unforgiving space, which lighting designer Aron Murray rarely softens. Their characters’ many references to how important the family backyard has been in their lives (“This garden is the world. Everything that matters happened here,” says Pip) are diminished by what we see.

While this Theatre Works production has some shortcomings, and Things I Know To Be True isn’t Bovell at his very best, its long overdue professional Melbourne premiere is well worth considering – especially for Belinda McClory’s compelling performance.

Things I Know To Be True plays at Theatre Works, St Kilda, Melbourne, until 4 May.

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