Monday, 19 September 2016

Review Things I Know To Be True

Things I Know To Be True
by Andrew Bovell

Never Promised You A Rose Garden

Somewhere in the suburbs of Adelaide live the Price family.  Father Bob (Ewan Stewart) tends his garden complete with manicured rose bushes, years after taking redundancy from a car factory. Mum Fran (Imogen Stubbs) now wears the earning trousers, working as a nurse at the local hospital while keeping the household together.

Meanwhile the four grown-up kids are spreading their wings in tentative flight with varying degrees of success. The youngest Rosie (Kirsty Oswald) sets off alone on a gap year in Europe, ending up in Berlin only to have her heart broken, her Euros stolen and to be ordered out of the house where a night of passion turns out to be a defeat and soulless trickery.

The expectations of Pip (Natalie Casey) sour and she hardens herself, ambitious in her work and love life, willing to leave her husband and, temporarily, her kids for a new job and lover in Vancouver.

The two sons are drawn with less detail. Tender Mark (Matthew Barker), an adored brother is ready to make a momentous change in his life. Shiny-suited wide-boy accountant Ben (Richard Mylan) is determined to compete and party with his colleagues before discovering he will be offered up as a token sacrifice by them when things go wrong.

Originally premiered in Adelaide in May this year (2016), the actors in the London staging co-directed by Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham, keep their English accents. This reminded us somewhat of at least one fairly recent production of Our Town which worked well. But in this case, we're not so sure.

Nevertheless Imogen Stubbs is outstanding as the family matriarch bluff, northern Fran, even if the script sometimes slightly jars making her more male than Stewart's more gentle, seemingly solitary father Bob, a gardener with his wheelbarrow, eventually in vain, laying out the boundaries in a medieval rose garden.

While it was written earlier than the vote, this felt for us something of a Brexit Commonwealth tale. Rosie is robbed of her heart and Euros in Berlin and has to return to her family. Pip ends up in Vancouver with a question mark over the future of her children.

Mark seems to only have one story line and we never learn his trade or profession but he advises his sometimes unwittingly crass parents to learn about his choice in life through books and websites. Ben's story is really intriguing - maybe this is why it feels pushed down in this production but never followed through with its implications for his trade, his fate and his family's future seemingly bound into extra-judicial financial servitude for what he has done.

The whole is polished, with fluid staging (set and lighting by Geoff Cobham with music by Nils Frahm) and choreography to reflect mental states and change the pace. Even so, the piece felt hugely influenced by recent TV family dramas such as Transparent with its different threads on family members.

In its effort to be global, on stage at least, something appears to be lost. There are times when, like some rebellious family member, we even felt resentful we were somehow being subjected to a gentle but insistent  indoctrination in "Things I Know To Be True" which made us more obstinate in our analysis rather than enveloping us in the story.

There's a lot to admire - Natalie Casey and Ewan Stewart especially match Stubbs' powerhouse performance in their own ways - and  some of the audience around us were wiping away tears by the end. However, it left us unaffected and, while technically superb, it's an amber light.

PS However we can't resist reference to a 1970s' country and western crossover classic which sprang to mind and seems fitting for this piece. .

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