The Truth is Longer Than a Lie :
ANDREA: I married this man because I loved him and I thought he loved me, but since our daughter was born he pays every minute of his attention to her. I mean, I would never want him to be neglectful or be uninterested in her activities—but, doctor, I think my husband has an unusual fascination with our little girl…
BEN: Whatever I did to Amy I did it out of love…I did it because she was the only person I idolised and cared about. I could only see the point of life when I gave all my love to her.
The Truth is Longer than a Lie tells the crossover stories of the separate families of Amy and Spiderman, and of an anonymous child, whose story we hear in voiceover. It is a family drama.
The adults Ben and Andrea or Rod and Paula are depraved, complicit or disbelieving. Andrea’s denial is particularly affecting. The family culture that Kieran Carroll’s drama unveils is that of child abuse. It is the children we come to know: their shame, their fear of disclosure, their urge to self-harm, their small window to healing given by counsellors and by their chance meeting. The authority of their young voices in Carroll’s dialogue will grip your heart. They are heroic.
In their foreword Neerosh Mudaly and Chris Goddard from Child Abuse Prevention Research Australia, state: ‘If we are a moral and just society, we must protect children. If we are to protect children, we have to listen to them.’
The Truth is Longer than a Lie wrenches us into listening.
Ben is sitting at the kitchen table with his computer. He is staring intently at images, aroused by what he sees. He is conscious of what he is doing and of being caught. He hears the sound of Andrea entering and shuts down his computer. Andrea moves towards him and tries to kiss him passionately.
ANDREA: Thought I’d surprise you. Amy’s over with Harry and Zara. Rachel’s making them spaghetti bolognaise. I said I’d go over at 8. That gives us some time. Our lives are so busy—
BEN: I like you being busy and going out and seeing your friends. Marriages need that freedom, that independence. Andrea, I might be worrying over nothing tonight but I’d just prefer Amy was here with us, that we were together as a family. Nothing against Rachel and her kids.
ANDREA: She’s fine. I thought we could (Trying to be seductive)... without her.
BEN: It’s been a difficult day at the office.
BEN: Properties aren’t selling.
BEN: What’s that look for? Don’t let your imagination play tricks.
ANDREA: Why wouldn’t it? You only ever turn away from me. You never say I look beautiful. Do you ever initiate sex? Are you scared I’ll fall pregnant?
BEN: I don’t want more children. We’ve been through this. Amy’s nine. Josh is almost off our hands. C’mon, why don’t I grab our incredible daughter and we can eat out at that fabulous Mexican place? Amy loves it there.
ANDREA: You’d tell me if there was somebody, wouldn’t you?
BEN: You have nothing to worry about.
ANDREA: So it’s my old affair then, is it? We’re three years on and David still haunts us. Let’s go upstairs. Take your clothes off. How about a shower... mmm? Amy’s fine.
BEN: I’d prefer dinner out. Then we can see about the bedroom.
ANDREA: Don’t go and get Amy, Ben. (Highly annoyed) You never want anything to be just the two of us, do you?
BEN: If you insinuate... if you ever say something like that again... don’t provoke me.
Andrea grabs Ben’s arm. Ben breaks away. We see him make a call on his mobile. As he waits for the phone to answer, Rod and Paula enter from the other side of the stage. They are at the end of a night out, looking happy. It’s the early days of their relationship.
Ben speaks on his mobile.
BEN: Jack, g’day mate. I know we’re locked in for tennis tomorrow tonight—but look—I’ll have to be home with Amy. You know what it’s like, fatherly responsibilities. Anyway, I’ll call you and make another time. Say hello to that beautiful new wife of yours.
Ben exits. Rod and Paula embrace in a nightclub. The Angels ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ plays loudly as they dance for a minute and try to talk to one another over the music. Music fades.
The statistics on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare websites are frightening. Every year approximately 55,000 children are the subjects of substantiations of notifications of neglect and abuse. One in thirty-seven children receive child protection services. Indigenous children are seven times as likely to be receiving child protection services as non-indigenous children. As of June 30, 2014, 43,009 children in out-of-home care were in relative/kinship or foster home care and 49 per cent of foster care households had multiple children placed.
Forty per cent of these 55,000 children have suffered emotional abuse, 28 per cent have been subject to neglect, 19 per cent subject to physical abuse, and the remaining 14 per cent are victims of sexual abuse. Statistics such as these have given rise to a national conversation, highlighted in 2015 by the appointment of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year.
It is therefore timely that Kieran Carroll’s play The Truth is Longer than a Lie should have had its first performance last November. Carroll’s play is an adaptation of the published PhD thesis of Neerosh Mudaly and Chris Goddard, which describes the rising incidence of child abuse and neglect in Australia and draws on case studies and true accounts by victims, their families, school counsellors, child protection unit workers and other agencies.
play echoes with the disturbing truth. It is direct, honest and
powerful in its
simplicity and its depiction of two families entangled in a web of
violence and despair.
Carroll has chosen to focus on two contrasting families. Andrea and Ben, a successful real estate agent, live in an affluent suburb. Their teenage daughter, Amy, attends a prestigious school. Since the age of three, she has been sexually abused by her obsessive father, who is addicted to child pornography.
Paula is a working-class mum, struggling to survive and provide for her son, Matthew, who escapes into a fantasy world as Spiderman. After the failure of her disastrous and abusive first marriage, Paula married Rod, who has become more violent and abusive as their marriage has deteriorated, and Matthew has once again become the innocent victim.
Andrea is in denial, while Paula finds herself powerless to escape the horrible circumstances that confront her. Gradually, Amy and Paula are both forced to recognise the terrible consequences of their situations and seek urgent help. Amy confides in her school counsellor, Janice, while Paula seeks the assistance of the child protection unit after Rod has been shot by police who were responding to a report of domestic violence. Amy leaves her home to live with her best friend Jodie and her mother, while Paula takes Matthew to live with his grandmother.
Carroll relates the stories of Amy and Matthew in twenty-seven short scenes. There is no need for elaboration or theatrical artifice. Each scene depicts a stage in the journey towards resolution, as we observe the eventual destruction of relationships and the family unit and of the physical and psychological well-being of the two children. Occasionally, the scenes are interspersed with the verbatim voiceover accounts of a ten-year-old child. Though brief, they are a gut-wrenching testament to the horror of abuse of the innocent.
Carroll cleverly avoids the pitfalls of moralising and sensationalism. His short scenes allow his audience to draw their own conclusions about the morality of the perpetrators’ actions. There can be little doubt, given the raw realism of the dialogue and the reality of the setting of each scene in a home, at a nightclub, at the child protection unit, in a hospital or at a railway station, where Amy saves Matthew from leaping beneath a train.
These are real people experiencing real abuse, struggling to repair their broken lives and confronting their fears. Carroll’s world contains no fantastic invention. His aim is not to excite our imaginations, but to provoke us to take responsibility as citizens to recognise, admit to and act upon a social injustice, indeed a crime that needs to be justly and effectively dealt with, not only for the sake of those who are suffering but also for the welfare of society.
Carroll’s narrative is simply told, but its message is complex. Like Mudaly and Goddard, he shows that only through intervention can any possibility of resolution be reached. It may be the intervention of the police, acting upon a report by a neighbour. It may be because of the meeting between Amy and Matthew. It may be because of their referral to the child protection unit and the sympathetic and enlightened actions of Bronwyn, the child protection officer.
While it is clear that Ben and Rod are the perpetrators of the terrible abuse, Carroll is careful not to apportion a stark, ill-considered judgment. He demonstrates the obsessive nature of Ben’s sexual addiction and Rod’s abuse as a child at the hands of his father, acknowledging that the abused may become the abusers. He will present the empathetic professionalism of Bronwyn in contrast to the ignorant ineffectualness of her colleague Danielle. All the pieces of this complex puzzle are laid out in a drama that is provocative and compelling. Only truth can fit these pieces together to make these people’s lives whole once more.
Whatever agents of resolution Carroll is able to conjure in his short play, the damage remains. Andrea remains unable to say, “I believe you,” to her daughter. Matthew no longer needs to believe he is Spiderman, but the memories and the pain remain. Ben and Rod face ruined lives. Each character at the close of the drama remains a victim. The final scene expresses hope for Amy and Matthew as they find comfort in each other’s company and shared experience.
The Truth is Longer than a Lie is a thought- provoking and moving account of the destructive nature of child abuse and domestic violence in a society purporting to be open, free and just and governed by laws designed to protect and nurture. Carroll’s adaptation of the Mudaly and Goddard book deserves to be played on a multitude of stages. The play is deliberately confronting, although I suspect it has avoided cases that have had more violent and deadly consequences. It is an important vehicle for further debate and would provide an excellent resource for discussion after a performance.
Matthew’s outburst will constantly remind us of our obligation to listen and believe:
That’s always the problem with these people [professionals], they don’t want to believe the truth, they want to believe the easiest side ... They don’t want to hear the truth because the truth is so much harder to understand and so much longer than a lie about the truth.
Carrol has exposed the lie with scalpel-like precision and compelled his play to utter a truth that cannot be ignored.
Peter Wilkins is a theatre reviewer for the Canberra Times.