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The Lies We Were Told

The Lies We Were Told
Writer: Collective creation
Director: Natalie Rose
ARA Darling Quarter
February 21-23, 2023

Devised and created by a group of exceptionally candid and generous teenagers The Lies We Were Told documents the experience of growing up in a society where lies have become part of everyday life. Lying or “putting a spin on things” has become a valued skill and a prime weapon in the obtaining and retaining of power and, as we learn, the young are early socialised into the practice.

On our first meeting with the 14 young actors, they seem vulnerable and unprotected as they lie on the floor in semi-darkness, sharing their childhood beliefs about the nature of the world. A dreamy Alana thinks the world is a container and the stars are holes through which we breathe while an impassioned Tom is convinced that pigeons are robot spies for the government. A child’s magical way of seeing the world allows them to be easily deceived but as the 14 teenagers stand upright and regroup they take on a more challenging stance.

Parents out of their need to maintain a pleasant but not coercive control are usually the young’s first experience of the art of spin. When young Gil eats too many sandwiches his parents tell him he will turn into a sandwich if he doesn’t cut down; he tests the story out by eating as many as possible and discovers for himself it isn’t true. Funny and no harm done except to parental strategy. When Tristan is told that the jingle plays only when the van has run out of ice cream and he argues the matter with a friend’s mother, finding out the truth is humiliating.

While parents are easy targets, the young people are understanding. When a wistful Megan started high school her dad told her that these were going to be the best days of her life, but reality gave the lie to his spin. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that at least she started out with confidence and that by Year 12 she discovered who she wanted to be. In contrasting mood, a ridiculously funny farce starring Tom Harper and Tom Anderson (dressed as an orange) and ending in a fabulous solo, celebrates the fact that a mother’s spin can result in a more varied diet.

The play is about moments and there are so many moments – funny, sad, wistful, zany and unexpected – that are memorable. Noam Sen Gupta’s splendid parody of a presenter’s smile and Astra Milne’s capture of the expression on an overseas correspondent’s face as they wait for the time lag was clever as was Jack Waters’ representation of the tea-urn lady at a support group meeting. The support group presided over by a solicitous Sunny Morris with Jake Milligan as consultant via TV screen was an excellent strategy allowing each a moment of revelation,  discovery and acknowledgement of change.

The Lies We Were Told coincides with Sydney WorldPride and Morris speaks movingly against heteronormative expectation and gender divisiveness. However, if queer can be taken as “questioning” then these young actors are on the leading edge of queer acceptance in their openness, their search for the authentic self and their desire for a more generous world. Once again director Natalie Rose empowers the young, showcasing their talent and their wisdom.

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