25 July 2019 (released)
25 July 2019
We all know a conspiracy theory or two, perhaps there’s even a couple that we suspect might have some truth to them. The Almeida Young Company’s latest production, (This Isn’t) A True Story, deals with just that – beliefs, from wild to widely accepted, and the possible truths within them. About as meta as a production can be, the ensemble performance flips in and out of a (not) true story with a familiar and simple premise. A big city detective arrives in a small town somewhere in the Midwest of America, a town in which everyone has a theory about some strange occurrence or another.
This main narrative is deliberately and successfully reminiscent of great film noirs: something is going on, our protagonist detective can feel it, though it is anything but clear what that something might be for most of the play. Said protagonist is named Ted – Rookie Detective Ted to be exact. Witty overcommunication of this fact forms the basis of the first of writer Nina Segal’s clever writing devices - there is a lot of repetition. An almost Beckettian overstatement of the same information, in fact, but with a handy dose of humour that makes it land just right. Add in some wonderful 70’s style patterned suits and flared jeans, as well as a brilliantly over the top dance break, and the ensuing 75 minutes starts to look quite delightful.
Outside of this story, the cast break character to become (versions of) themselves, discussing their own apparent opinions on the hysteria that begins to take hold in the small town. The oscillation between these two parts feels natural, and to Segal’s credit, the back and forth manages to cover just about every possible response to any conspiracy theory. The dialogue is so apt and thought provoking that it can often be a shame to have to return to the story, which sometimes drags under the weight of it’s own tortoise-crawl speed. One difficulty of ensemble pieces is the necessity for each actor to have enough to do, and occasionally it does seem like Joseph Hancock’s direction is stunted by the sheer number of cast members he must account for. Breakaways to projected mini infomercials explain a few different popularist theories, but do little past contextualisation, and hamper the play’s progress even further. Alienating as this may be, the smart character swapping and small moments of comedy are enough to fill the gaps between the more intriguing fat that is thankfully chewed on.
Throughout the performance, the audience is consistently reminded that everything is made up, so as not to provide any offensive presumption of truth. But as the debate around opinion and reality spirals, there is a condescending sense that Segal and Hancock had more political questions in mind to ask with this production than simply the relativity of said truth. The link to conspiracy theories is there, certainly, but it feels a little tenuous, a reach to something more conventionally rousing, which absolutely wasn’t necessary here. The power in the Almeida Young Company’s performance is in their brilliant summation of diversity of opinion – something we know for certain does exist in the world. Despite the constant reassurance that nothing is true, you might leave with the overwhelming feeling that this production is not too far removed from reality.