Things I Know To Be True
Direction: Shane Bosher (written by Andrew Bovell)
Circa Theatre; Circa One (April 30 – May 29)
Andrew Bovell has here created the sprawling epic family drama that is a distinctly Australian version of the big theatrical experiences we so often associate with American playwrights – from Tennessee Williams on through Tony Kushner and Tracy Letts; in particular the work of Letts feels prescient. And Bovell’s own earlier work (perhaps specifically Speaking In Tongues, later adapted by the writer for the feature film Lantana) prepares us for his themes – of family hurt coming as by-product of family love; too much love this play’s script even warns.
The Price family is close – but there are ructions. As retired dad tends the roses and stoic mum is in and out for her nursing shift work, we meet the four adult children – they’ll each have a problem or change to discuss. They’ll do so via a theatrical monologue and that device allows for nostalgic reframing – as the family home, specifically its garden, is the, ahem, seed for memories.
Director Shane Bosher allows the script’s many words and big, big speeches to shine – utilising a clever set design (Andrew Foster with Matt Short and Tina Hutchison-Thomas) to draw the audience immediately into the intimacy. These are battlers (mum and dad Price, that is). Hard workers that only want their children to remain close geographically. As well as philosophically, spiritually, emotionally and perhaps politically even. It’s not too much to ask eh?
But eldest daughter Pip (Heather O’Carroll) is planning a big move, and the baby of the family Rosie (Caitlin Rivers) is back from abroad, broken heart in tow. These are the easiest problems arguably. Mark (Jthn Morgan) and Ben (Daniel Watterson) sit on stage waiting to drop their news. We can tell it’s bigger – in each case – because of the wait (preceding and signalling the weight).
The parents have always been there for their kids. They’ll do their best to be there, but families get tested.
Every actor gives their all and of the children I particularly loved the nuanced performance from O’Carroll and the opening monologue delivered by Rivers, which is so very scene and tone setting.
But the heavy lifting of the piece is actually in the matriarch and patriarch roles. As Bob, Stephen Lovatt is sublime – from not knowing how to make coffee to being more attentive to his rose garden. And as Fran, Lara Macgregor must showcase brutal strength, lioness heart and grit – and though she won’t admit to playing favourites (“I say that to all of you”) she’s still ironing her 28yo son’s business shirts (because he just cracks her up when he enters the room, ya know).
You’ll see and feel and hear your own family on the stage. Or the one you married into, or the one you stayed with often as a kid. You know these people. The deft skills of the writing and acting combining to bring them so hugely to life – but without ever writing it too large across either page or stage.
In the way the action of the play moves we get to feel the slower first half being held by Macgregor’s tour-de-force efforts and then after the interval it is more about Lovatt; it is more about Bob.
The standing ovation told the story better than I can. I’m also not wanting to give too much away of course. But this is one of the finest plays and one of the best ensemble efforts I’ve seen in some time. I felt the soul and heart of this every step, loved the performance as a whole and felt so safe, there in the hands of master players. This is dynamic, brilliant theatre and an absolute must-see.