Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London, then touring (*****)
If only more theatre companies could take a leaf from Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and State Theatre Company Australia director, Geordie Brookman! This I know to be true. They’ve found a way with Andrew Bovell’s heartfelt family drama to make every word count, every word audible – even the silences in between. And that, I can tell you, is a rare thing these days.
Frantic’s co-founder, Scott Graham talks in the foreword to the text of the ideas and thoughts that led to him and Geordie Brookman working together – differences as much as similarities. But what they have shared – and what is totally apparent from the end result is an understanding of what works and what is so special about the moments that do.
And there are many in this wonderful, painful dissection of what makes `a family’, its dynamics and the secrets that lurk within. A `coming-of-age’ for Bob and Fran’s youngest, Rosie, it’s equally a rite of passage for older daughter, Pip and their two sons, Mark and Ben. When you’ve got a mum as forceful as Fran (Imogen Stubbs in fine if terrifying form), it’s easy to let the burden of life lie at her door.
But growing up will happen, willy-nilly and Bovell spreads his net far and wide catching in his warmth the impulses that will drive them away – the search for love, alas greed, even class resentment.
Broken hearts, financial fraud, trans-gender identity and death all pass through the Bovell sieve and occasionally the spectre of soap opera does begin to loom. But such is the sureness of Graham and Brookman’s theatrical sense be it visual, physical or emotional, you realise it’s just another way of Bovell providing the truth and fullness for each of his characters.
Nothing is left out, not even the prosaic weft of marriage as everyday drudge demanding compromise and sometimes forfeiture. `Happiness,’ snorts Fran as her adult children attempt to justify selfishness with the search for it. Fran knows all about its cost.
Magnificently performed as an ensemble, this is a play to swell the heart, as universal to London and Manchester as south Australia. You will relate!
Things I know to be true runs at the Lyric Hammersmith to Oct 1, 2016 then tours to Oxford Playhouse; Warwick Arts Centre, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, The Lowry, Chichester Festival Theatre.