ONE of the things that has happened in theatre in recent years is that the majority of the audience whoops and cheers within a second of the final word of a play being spoken. I was heartened and relieved to find that the (largely young) audience at Yeovil’s Swan Theatre was totally silent and still when Mark Payne’s production of Andrew Bovell’s astonishing and often shattering play Things I Know to be True came to an end. It was the right response, before the applause started.
Australian writer Andrew Bovell is best known for his film scripts, several for Baz Luhrmann. The play had its premiere in Australia in 2016, and has since been performed in the US, at Chichester and by Frantic Assembly. The use of movement and music are essential, and in Yeovil the director has chosen an evocatively scene-setting sound track, along with piano music composed and played by one of the six actors, Mike Stanley. It’s another example of the little amateur theatre bringing regional premieres and brilliantly acted productions to Somerset … audiences are so lucky.
The Price family lives in Adelaide, in the same house that mother and father Fran and Bob built in the early years of their marriage. Cinematically, it all starts where it finishes, with the family in the garden where the important moments of their lives have happened. The passing of time is signified by the changing of flowers in the garden. The telephone rings …
The first Price we meet is Rosie, the youngest daughter, forced to cut short her solo gap year European trip when, instead of proposing, her new Spanish lover nicks her money, her laptop, her camera and her heart. Played by Georgia Holder (whose amazing solo act Glee and Me at the Swan 12 months ago is etched in my memory) this heart-breaking start to the play charts her return to her home where everything will be the same. But it isn’t.
In turn, her parents, her brothers and her sister tell their stories as what seemed like an idyllic ly warm, secure and supportive family is flayed. What’s scary about this play is that every one of the audience will recognise some aspect of themselves and their own lives in the 2020s. It really does shine a bright spotlight into the soul and the memory.
Mark Payne wisely decided against Aussie accents, although all the Australian references are retained. It needs exceptional actors to pull off this long and often painful play, which has its moments of humour. It would be very easy to portray mother Fran as a monster, but Sarah Ambrose negotiates the fine line between know-it-all, doom-telling domination and energetic, determined care. Mike Stanley, as her hard working, right-thinking husband Bob, makes his on stage debut in this demanding role after years at the sound desk.
Once again Sara Nias shows her extraordinary versatility as the disappointed Pip, with Matt Parker joining the company to play Ben, the funny, needy, social-climbing finance man who’s not nearly as clever as he thinks. Ethan Meadowcroft-Taylor returns to the Swan after his barnstorming performance as Mozart in Amadeus, bringing pathos and clear understanding to the role of Mark/Mia.
Once you see Things I Know to be True you won’t forget it, and I doubt I will ever see it better done.