What is a fact? Is it only one thing? Can it be negotiated with? Can you say it in a different way to suit your own narrative? Each of these questions, and more, are brought to the forefront and had me questioning my own ideals in the latest production from the Melbourne Theatre Company, The Lifespan of a Fact.
Professionally, I am a Business Analyst. Every day I look at, summarise and analyse data to produce a report to visualise what that data means and factually represents. I know it is the truth because it is in the data and there is no other answer. I saw my own analytical mind and keen eye for detail in the character of Jim Fingal. Portrayed by the fantastic Karl Richmond, Fingal is a young intern at a reputable published magazine. Chief Editor, Emily Penrose (Nadine Garner) has entrusted Fingal with fact checking a few key points from an article, sorry, ‘essay’, written by John D’Agata (Steve Mouzakis).
The essay is about a young man that committed suicide and the final moments of his life on the Las Vegas Strip. Eager to please Penrose and show what a dedicated and diligent employee he can be with his acute attention to detail, Fingal takes to the task with a passion. It quickly becomes prevalent that the piece written by D’Agata may not be what it seems. Fingal unpacks the first sentence and discovers that almost everything in it, may in fact be fictional.
The story cleverly tackles the moral judgement of individuals and what constitutes the hard truth versus ‘the truth with some creative liberties’ that bring meaning and emotion to the piece. As a writer, it is extremely important to convey emotion and point of view. It allows the reader to learn who you are and what you believe in. A good writer should be able to do this without spinning the truth, especially when that truth involves the lives and memories of other people.
To say that I was intrigued and invested in every single line of this play would be a gross understatement. Throughout the entirety of the play, it had me questioning the morals of both fact checker and writer. Both characters were willing to passionately fight for what they believe in, even if it was at the risk of losing everything. For the most part, I was on Fingal’s side and, as mentioned above, saw myself in him in the way he approached each point logically. On the other hand, D’Agata also had some remarkably interesting points that had me swaying in his favour, then bam, Fingal derails it with one line. It is this back-and-forth discussion that makes this play extremely captivating.
All three performances in this production are fantastic, however it is Karl Richmond as Jim Fingal that shines the brightest. His portrayal of Fingal’s meticulous nature, determination, and at times, sarcastic frustration, is utterly brilliant. I was drawn into his performance unlike any other role I have seen on stage for quite some time. Perhaps this is because, as mentioned, I related to it on a very deep personal and professional level. I was frustrated for him, I was cheering for him, and I am so glad I got to witness his portrayal of Fingal live on stage.
The Lifespan of a Fact is a play that will leave you thinking about it long after you exit the theatre. It already has me questioning articles I see either in print or on TV, and it will have me doing my own research to help form meaningful and factual opinions about events around the world from now on. Now more than ever, it is easy to get bogged down in the same narrative fed to you by that one news agency you have always watched. Shake things up a bit, watch another channel, read a different newspaper, and you will find that whilst they are all factually reporting on the same thing, the narrative displayed may just be completely different.
The Lifespan of a Fact by the Melbourne Theatre Company is on at the Fairfax Theatre at the Arts Centre and I strongly suggest you go and see this. You will not regret it! I am so glad I got to see it, and that’s a fact!
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Photography by Jeff Busby.