DramaNorth WestPhysical TheatreReview

Things I Know to be True – Storyhouse, Chester

Writer: Andrew Bovell

Directors: Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham

Reviewer: Emma Boswell

Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know to Be True is brought to life by Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company of South Australia in Chester’s Storyhouse for a five-day run this week.

The play tells the tale of Bob and Fran Price, a couple who have reached the autumn of their lives and raised four, now fully grown, children.  The story focuses on each child’s quest to define themselves beyond the comfort and constraints of their family unit, bringing together themes of love, relationships, struggles and identity.

The six-part cast, who play the Price family, are each given a chance to take centre-stage and tell their own stories.  Cate Hamer is particularly note-worthy in her very talented portrayal of Fran – a character who seems to evolve in front of the audience’s eyes from a happy-go-lucky, nurturing, hen-pecking mother figure to a darker, more complex individual, with plenty of skeletons of her own in the closet.  The relationship between Fran and her eldest daughter Pip (Seline Hizli) is a highlight of the performance – a very real, gritty portrayal of a relationship eaten away by neglected resentments and bitterness.

The production team, led by Ali Beale, manage to create a wonderfully immersive atmosphere from the start.   Rosie’s (Kirsty Oswald) strong opening soliloquy makes creative use of setting and lighting to draw the audience in, as well as introducing us to some well-choreographed sequences of physical theatre, which remain consistently strong throughout. Scene changes are sleek, with set furniture sliding around the stage impressively to recreate setting in the blink of an eye.

Although more a reference to the play itself than this particular production, some audience members may find the story a little over-sentimentalised at times.  With so many sub-story lines feeding into the narrative, the audience are left feeling overwhelmed and overloaded on occasion.  It is hard to fully connect with Mark’s (Matthew Barker) life-changing decision and the emotional turmoil that results, when the plot line is given so little stage time.  It would be great to see Barker’s portrayal of this character in more depth, as it feels a little buried within the pile of dramatic sub-plots.  The different characters’ stories seem to resolve themselves and reach a climax, before the audience are given a chance to unpack and digest them.  In this sense, the production can sometimes drift into cliff-hanger filled, soap opera territory.

Sniffs and snuffles can be heard around the audience, as the production reaches its finale.  The audience are hit hard by explicitly profound life messages and clear, poignant sentiments to take home.  However, the wonder of subtlety seems to be missing – an audience who wish to take some more implicit meanings, with lingering questions to ponder and debate may be left feeling like they’ve been spoon-fed two hours of pre-determined emotion.

On the whole, this is an enjoyable show with a strong, talented cast.  A final note must be given to Artistic Director Scott Graham, who stepped in to cover the part of Bob Price, due to cast member illness on the night. Despite Graham having the script to hand, this is quickly forgotten as his skilful delivery is smoothly integrated with the rest of the cast and the show, indeed, goes on!

Runs until 11th Nov 2017 | Image: Contributed

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