From the writer of Lantana and the stage adaptation of The Secret River, Things I Know to be True is a new play about a seemingly ordinary family that inspires laughter (at the universality of their minor spats) and heartache (at revelations that would devastate any of us).
At the Playhouse till Saturday, the high-energy production opened last night and is collaboration between the State Theatre Company of South Australia, respected contemporary Australian playwright Andrew Bovell and British theatre company Frantic Assembly.
Set almost entirely in the Price family home and the quarter acre block on which it sits, the play is a study in what life is all about.
It’s a look at how our search for happiness plays out differently for Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y/millennials. The characters have variously settled or remained aspirational, they’ve worked hard to get to where they are or have a sense of entitlement about where they should be. Sound familiar? It sure resonated with me.
Former car manufacturing plant worker Bob Price (Paul Blackwell – Candy, Red Dog) took a package and retired at 56 and spends his time tending to his roses and raking up leaves in the garden. His greatest stress these days is keeping track of his secateurs and wondering what to do once the gardening tasks are complete each season.
Wife Fran (Eugenia Fragos – The Slap, Head on) is a hard-working shift-worker, a nurse who believes a woman should retain some financial independence from her husband.
She also still washes and irons the business shirts of her brash 28-year-old son Ben (Tim Walter – Home & Away, Joe Cinque’s Consolations), a European car-driving yuppie who drops in regularly, if briefly, to collect meals in Tupperware and remind everyone how busy and important he is.
Ben’s younger brother Mark (Nathan O’Keefe – Deadline Gallipoli, All Saints), is a gentle, good looking bloke whose long-term relationship has just ended somewhat mysteriously.
Older sister Pip (Georgia Adamson – Love Child, A Place to Call Home) is a public servant and a mum who is resentful of Fran over incidents long past, and jaded by life juggling family and career.
Then there’s gorgeous Rosie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey – Barracudas, The Kettering Incident), a little lost after her gap year trip around Europe ended in heartache.
They’re all grappling with life-changing decisions, and less critical matters such as why Bob still can’t work the coffee pod machine and which route to take to the airport. It was these light-hearted insights that led me to laugh out loud half a dozen times.
The giggles were balanced out by a similar number of grimaces and flinches at the flawed decision-making of some of the characters, depicted so achingly well by this impressive cast that I can’t get their moral dilemmas out of my mind.
Also etched in my memory is the lyrical way the actors interacted with the set, props and lights, particularly the dining table and chairs sliding in and out of sight, such a symbol of family life and inter-relationships; but most of all, the writing: the dialogue that rings so true and the soliloquies that take us inside the heads of these characters as they wrestle with the same matters of life, love, identity and death that perplex us all.
Theatre lovers would be mad not to see this critically-acclaimed play days after its world premiere in Adelaide, and weeks before its three-month run in Britain.
Things I Know to be True is at the Playhouse at 8pm tonight, Friday and Saturday, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday also. The cast will the cast appear at a post-show Q&A following the performance tonight.
Charlotte Harper attended last night’s performance as a guest of the Canberra Theatre.