The Lifespan of a Fact is a dynamic and energetic take on a topical play, and the best thing Sydney Theatre Company has done this year.
What is truth? What is fact? And how do facts change based on the intention of the writer? These are the hard-hitting questions asked in Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell’s play, directed by Paige Rattray.
Emily (Sigrid Thornton) is a high-powered magazine editor who might be about to publish her biggest story yet. The print deadline is four days away, and she needs eager intern Jim (Charles Wu) to do a simple fact-check. When it’s revealed that the author, John (Gareth Davies), may have embellished key details in his essay about a real teenager’s suicide, the trio meet up to hash things out, and debate the line between truth and fiction.
The lean 75-minute script (my favourite length for a play) wastes no time. You are immediately thrown in the thick of it, and Rattray’s engrossing direction keeps the pace electric. The first half is very witty, and then the play slowly transforms from a comedy into a serious debate about ethics and morality in journalism and fiction, but the turn happens so gradually you don’t realise it’s changed until it has.
Rattray’s decision to have a clarinettist (sound designer Maria Alfonsine) perform during transitions and then stay on stage for the final scene was a bold, interesting choice, but I found her presence distracting, and she pulled focus from the actors during the play’s most emotional moments.
Screens are very overused in modern theatre productions. However, set designer Marg Horwell’s restrained use of screens, with video design by Susie Henderson, enhances the atmosphere of the set, nicely placing us in New York City and the Nevada desert. The screens also serve as a useful focal point for the Roslyn Packer stage, which can feel cavernous and empty in the hands of the wrong director
The script is not subtle in its moralising about facts versus art, but it is effective. STC’s marketing evoked Aaron Sorkin, which is an apt comparison. Jim is agonisingly pedantic about the facts, and John is a pretentious egotist. Neither of them are fully likeable, and neither are 100% right or wrong— the writers let you decide where you fall. Jim and John’s battle is the clash of pragmatism and high-mindedness, a battle against what is correct, and what is dramatically compelling.
The Lifespan of a Fact is a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a play. Funny, thoughtful and timely, its well worth a watch.
This review was originally posted on the ATYP website.