With the Edinburgh and Camden Fringe festivals over for another year, and having almost totally dominated this blog for the last month, it is time to turn back to other avenues. I’d watched a Frantic Assembly piece called Lovesong a while ago now and as they had a second show available on the Digital Theatre platform I decided to head there before tackling some new productions which have emerged during August. Things I Know To Be True is actually a collaboration between Frantic Assembly and the State Theatre Company of South Australia; this version was filmed during the show’s run at the Lyric in Hammersmith a few years back.
Andrew Bovell’s play is an elegantly constructed family drama. Bob and Fran Price have reached late middle age; he is retired, she is, as yet, not. They have four adult children who, they hope, will be better versions of themselves, but when the youngest Rosie returns home with a broken heart after travelling abroad this only marks the start of a series of problems for the family. As the seasons come and go each of the other three offspring also appear in the family home to announce their own dilemmas about their personal lives and more or less force the parents to re-evaluate everything that thought they knew about their world. There’s even a seismic revelation by Fran herself which further destabilises the status quo.
By the time Pip, the oldest sibling, is revealing her dark secrets it becomes rather evident which way the structure of the play is going to go. Actually, I didn’t mind that – perhaps after some of the rather baggily constructed pieces at the Fringe, it was a relief to see something where there was practised craftsmanship in evidence. The interest lay in discovering what the various problems were going to be and with Frantic Assembly being in charge it was always going to look sensational. There’s a fabulous set and lighting design from Geoff Cobham which shows the stars twinkling over the Price’s garden where most of the action takes place. In true FA style, furniture and props glide on and off and there are some extraordinary movement sequences which contain a sense of the characters’ longing all set to the atmospheric music of Nils Frahm.
Heading the cast is Imogen Stubbs as stubborn and often angry matriarch Fran. She gives her expected classy performance but even that is overshadowed by Ewan Stewart as Bob; his grasp of the character is first class and he clearly demonstrates how it is really his character, rather than the more overt Fran, who is holding the family together. His howls of anguish as he systematically destroys the six rose bushes (symbolic of the six family members) are masterfully done. Kirsty Oswald, Natalie Casey, Richard Mylan and Matthew Barker as the four siblings also all get their moment in the spotlight with the latter possibly the most heartfelt. Oswald probably has the most difficult job in setting up the scenario right at the start of the play with a ten minute monologue which she handles well but I was glad when we moved onto the cut and thrust of the dialogue which forms the main part of the play – there’s perhaps been too many monologue shows in these socially distanced times.
I did find it slightly odd that, despite many Australian references and them all being one family living in Adelaide, the characters were using various British accents; Stubbs is particularly noticeable as stridently northern. Whether this is supposed to be suggestive of some sort of universality of experience, I’m not sure and perhaps it was just my need for consistency, but I did find it jarred rather. There also seemed to be a tension of styles from the double directors Scott Graham and Geordie Brookman with one going for a lyrical dreamlike feel so typical of the Frantic Assembly highly choreographed house style and the other from State Theatre Company seemingly far more rooted in a realistic tradition. At least it made for a dynamic experience. I recall at the time this play first emerged that there were several charges of there being a soap opera mentality to it all. I can’t say I found that in this wittily elegant and poignant production which gives new life to the tropes of the family drama.
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece is Bees. David Greig’s lyrical celebration of a moment in time was filmed on an obviously glorious day matching the elegiac mood conjured up by Lorraine McIntosh. Almost a poem
Things I Know To Be True is available on Digital Theatre – click here
Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here
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