BY ANDREW BOVELL
FEB 5 – FEB 27, 2021.
Review by : “Reviews by Judith”
For most audiences going to the theatre means being told a story. Not only is Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know to Be True a moving, detailed and hopeful story but Castle Hill Players’ production of this beautiful play brings a lovingly crafted and meticulously constructed work to their stage. It’s rare for me to love a theatre experience where people around me whisper, however for this production that engagement with the story and characters in other audience members just gave me a beaming smile. Other people in the dark bursting to say how much they loved what they were experiencing.
I know the story, you see. It’s a play I am very familiar with and that’s why part of the joy is knowing that others are also falling in love with, and worrying for, the Price family. Dad Bob (Stephen Snars) Mum Fran (Annette van Roden) have four adult children. The youngest is Rosie (Kate Jirelle) and it is she who we meet first. A way away from Halett Cove just south Adelaide, her European trip of discovery is not as she hoped and she’s missing the coast and her family as she speaks to us directly. We will also hear solo from Pippa (Vivienne Rodda) who works in education policy, Ben a businessman (Ben Freeman) and Mark (Adam Garden) who seems rather lost. It’s Mark and Rosie who are closest among the siblings.
Director Carol Wimmer has carefully created the emotional topography of this play, knowing with absolute clarity that the success of Things I Know to Be True relies on the audience’s appreciation and involvement with the children – audiences understand the many shades of Fran and Bob through their kids’ monologues. Each of the parents is something different to each sibling. Snars is expert at allowing Bob to listen more than act and he has an excellent command of the inappropriate things Bob does, the audience isn’t offended or angry with him. Just as forbearing as any long-time spouse, really. Van Roden foregrounds Fran’s tough nut side, hands in pockets and irritation perceptible but entirely a formidable team with Bob when required. The softer elements of Fran are the audiences’ to find in the superb script and assured direction from Wimmer who successfully puts on the stage both the family chaos and also the wee moments of sharing.
In that first important monologue Jirelle captures a watcher’s heart with the vicarious charm of love remembered. Jirelle is warm and funny and complicated, as is Garden’s Mark. He’s not as open with us until he chooses but Garden, like Snars, never disappears or behaves unnaturally quiet. His watchfulness is alert and loving in a moving performance. Definitely not a retiring child, Rodda gives us a Pippa who has to fight for her place in this suburban backyard. This is a performance which captures a yearning that is so clear and understandable to the audience. Cleverly Rodda never tells us her great secret we learn vicariously. Ben however is strung sky high and ready to explode with what’s going on for him. Freeman does containment so well, his work when that fails for Ben, is equally emotionally satisfying.
This fabulous set is completely recognisable and, vital to the themes, relatable. ‘The backyard is the world’ so it has to be. And it’s also very, very sturdy and settled. As the Prices are … they all come home and Bob has big dreams for the grandkids! The audio is chosen with care as an occasional car passes by in one of the upstage speakers or distant birds come close and wheel away. The evocative original music matches mood to text with precision. Wimmer knows when not to touch on the comic, and in a splendid example, wisely trusts Rodda enough to stand her still, allowing the light piano music to respond and presage her heartbeat. Both the design and the original music just lovely. Joshua McNulty (composer) and Bernard Teuben (Sound Design). Same with the lighting which incrementally draws a watcher into and out of the solo speeches with colour, intensity and movement. There is some excellent cueing from the operators too.
All in all Things I Know to Be True is a show perfectly pitched to give each audience member a theatre experience which combines the play’s familiar territory with a story of unguessed surprises. If you know the play or are, like me, an inveterate interval eavesdropper, the sharing of our love of the Price family may be the best bit.