The Lifespan of a Fact Review


Is there an ambiguous grey area or multi faceted element to the ideals surrounding ‘truth’? What constitutes this and can it be up to each individual’s own interpretation? Sydney Theatre Company brings us The Lifespan of a Fact, delving into these morally unsure, yet extremely prevalent questions – all in a jam-packed hour and fifteen minutes.

Sigrid Thornton and Charles Wu in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Lifespan of a Fact, 2022. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

A jazzy, very ‘New York’ style piece of music performed live onstage by composer and musician Maria Alfonsine begins the performance. The curtains lift, and Marg Horwell’s purely brilliant set design introduces us to the show. Based on the true story and book by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farell, The Lifespan of a Fact follows the lives of three people, a myriad of stories, and a magazine article that is ensured to get the recognition it deserves.

Charles Wu delivers us the nerdy and scattered character of Jim Fingal, a young intern who will do whatever it takes to impressively complete the task given to him by his new superior Emily Penrose, depicted by Sigrid Thorton. In her compelling Sydney Theatre Company debut, Thornton asserts herself into this powerful character with extraordinary conviction and commitment. The trio is completed in the introduction of Gareth Davies, playing the temperamental and somewhat overly- confident John D’Agata – writer of the article that strings this strong team of conflicting views and challenging realities together. Each performer compliments the other and they appear to strongly to bounce off each other. From tension-built monologues, to back-and-forth bickering, this small cast still managed to make for a greatly engaging performance.

Charles Wu, Sigrid Thornton, Gareth Davies and Maria Alfonsine in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Lifespan of a Fact, 2022. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

Director Paige Rattray ingeniously explores the extent to which these characters pursue to find their own truth in each circumstance. She utilises multimodal devices, intricate Bretchian set and costume changes, and specifically; the bare, deserted stage that the characters find themselves in whilst they navigate their existential crises. The stage is a clever, unique collaboration between Horwell and Rattray that is indicative of such an impressive, complex visual meaning.

The Lifespan of a Fact proposes an audience to engage in in-depth philosophical pondering, whilst also serving as a comedic and saddening scramble for certainty in a world that complicates that search beyond belief. The creatives behind this production have done a superb job in staging such a worldwide Broadway sensation, and received an array of gasps, laughs, and appreciation for the work that was so creatively resurrected before their eyes.

4 Stars.

Elodie, 16 [she/her]



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.

Gareth Davies and Charles Wu in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Lifespan of a Fact, 2022. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

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.

Sigrid Thornton and Charles Wu in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Lifespan of a Fact, 2022. Photo: Prudence Upton ©

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.

Lifespan of a Fact is a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a play. Funny, thoughtful and timely, it’s well worth a watch.

4.5 Stars.

Jo, 23 [she/her]

Sydney Theatre Company’s The Lifespan of a Fact plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre until the 22nd October. Buy tickets here.