By Rosie Niven
What’s the definition of good Australian theatre? If you’re a fan of the nostalgic Aussie backyard drama, your first answer is likely to be any work by Andrew Bovell. The award-winning playwright is known for Speaking in Tongues, Lantana, and When the Rain Stops Falling, to name a few. Each of Bovell’s plays skilfully dissects distinctly human characters, putting all of our painful flaws up on a platter for us to digest for the next two hours on stage. Each of his plays feel like a gut punch that gets you when you think the fight is already over. With all this in mind, it’s hard not to head into Belvoir with the highest of expectations for their production of Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know to be True - and oh boy, they did not disappoint.
From the minute I walk into the theatre, I'm hit with a sense of home: set designer Stephen Curtis' well-loved backyard feels like the 70s concrete slabs many of us grew up with, even down to that spider-web crack in the pavement that everyone seemed to have but nobody knew how it got there. Backed by a corrugated iron fence and flanked by over-tended rose bushes whose buds fall and get replaced to signify the passing of time, we are instantly transported to a childhood memory of on Australian backyard that has hosted decades of stories. This passage of time is further signified by the autumn leaves that fall from the sky as the season changes, and Damien Cooper's shifting lights that grow warmer and colder - and with that, we watch a year go by in the life of the Price family.
It is clear that the Price matriarch, Fran, is the glue that has kept this family going for so long, and this is further amplified by the spectacular casting of Helen Thomson. Thomson shines as the sharp-tongued no bullshit head of the household, and each joke landed precisely, leaving the audience in stitches. Supporting her is the gentle-hearted Bob (Tony Martin) who reminds us of our own parents with his complete lack of understanding about modern technology and his insistence that everything should just stay the same. Each of the four children bring a sense of charismatic childishness to the stage as we watch them return home and let go of their adult lives - judging by the heavy sighs in the audience, this was something many could relate to.
There are some incredibly poignant moments in this show that deserve separate recognition: Mark returning home as rain pours from the sky to confess to his true identity, Fran reading a letter from Pip in which they are finally honest with each other for the first time, and Bob taking the phone call that changes his life forever. Director Neil Armfield has respectfully and expertly taken a lot of sensitive content and allowed us an insight while letting the text speak for itself.
This is not going to be a play that changes the world, or that shifts your political view, or that furthers the way we see art, but it is a true celebration of classic Australian theatre. I left the theatre feeling proud of the work that Australia puts forward, being proud of our creative voice, and most importantly, really wanting to call my mum. So get up, pack some tissues, reconnect with your family, and then head on over to Belvoir to see this show. I promise, it’s worth the heartache.
Photo Credit: Heidrun Löhr
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.