Nils Frahm’s music is an expanding lung, wheezing and gasping as it’s squeezed tight. It fills and fills and keeps on growing and the edges get thinner and it’s about to burst and then it releases and sinks back down again and contracts. Then back up it goes.
His composition is underscored by a kind of non-sound that fills the room entirely. I just played it in the kitchen and mum called it “underneath screeching”, like a tyre halting – a sound that shouldn’t be there and occupies a different space from the thing that makes it. It has a nothing-y quality to it, that kind of nothing that we used to learn about in school where nothing is actually everything. You just look at Cordelia or Barrel Organ or loneliness and you see how those two opposites can be exactly the same. It’s that sound/feeling/emotion of the silence/nothing/gasping breath that propels the actors in Things I Know To Be True. The music keeps breathing as one ordinary family’s life is unpicked onstage, each character taking their turn to untangle our first assumptions of them, and their assumptions about each other.
It’s the captured breath that gets me. The moment of shock. The rasping swell of that sound. It’s the space in between two words, between two people as they dance, between your body and the other side of the bed.
It’s the space between being sick of home and being homesick, between explaining and understanding, between the power of the front seat of the car and the infantalism of the back seat.
It’s the space between the lips of a man and his father, between Hallet Cove and Vancouver, between the person you are with and the person you actually want.
It’s the space between before and after and all of it at once.
Then suddenly that space is punctured.
As all the play’s knotty issues pale in significance at this puncturing, the little nuances suddenly gain more power. The touch of the back in comfort that no one else notices, the little grin, the piss takes. The things you don’t fully acknowledge or appreciate in the moment but that make up a relationship. It’s this – the tiny details combined with the huge overbearing power of emotion – that makes this play extraordinary.
And it’s created with such care. The gliding kitchen shifts perspective as the cast masterfully carry out their physical theatre. I’ve seen Frantic Assembly’s work copied badly so many times. Last night was the first show of their’s I’ve caught and it was a joy to see it done so well. Geoff Cobham’s lighting design positively thumps and glitters, shining tear drops falling from above.
The other thing that sticks out of Andrew Bovell’s script is it’s exploration of people’s contradictions. How it’s much harder for someone (a parent) to deal with an issue when it’s placed around their kitchen table. They’d normally they’d be fine with it, just so long as it was happening to someone else. Bovell’s writing demonstrates how we really don’t know how we’re going to react until something happens to us. We want to think better of ourselves but we don’t know if we’ll be able to accept our children when they turn out to be different to how we hoped. We don’t know if we’ll be able to cope when we’re asked to tell the truth. We don’t know why we do something even though we know it’s wrong. We don’t know how we’ll be able to fathom the reality of something we never expected.
Underneath it all, Frahm’s heavy, breathy music is there. It’s like a kitchen table that stays the same no matter how many marks are scratched into it, no matter how many people sit round it, and no matter how much those people change.
God, it’s beautiful.