Andrew Bovell’s play concerning the vicissitudes of quitting a conventional home for the outside world leaves both its characters and audience with a shaky view of home-life. One thing’s for sure: watching Things I Know to be True at the Michael Pilch Studio is one and a half hours well-spent.
A telephone upon a side-table and two plastic troughs filled with fake flowers provide the opening scene for a play feared to be another cosy, domestic set-up writ large on stage. However, despite the naturalistic, homeliness of arguments over new-fangled coffee machines conducted at a table laid with biscuits and hot beverages, this play, paradoxically, captures the impermanence of a stable conception of home.
Bob and Fran’s family-of-six is introduced as a close-knit, if squabbling, community gathered for the early return of their youngest from Europe. However, the wooden chair, placed roughly centre-stage, becomes a place of monologic revelation for the four children: Rosie, Pip, Mark/Mia, and Ben; from my seat left-of-stage I watched as familiar moments of family-life, such as the coveting of the youngest, or the taunting of a young girl’s vanity, were rendered sinister in light of individual confessions.
The consistency of Harry Berry’s characterisation of Bob was genius. His stuttering, gaping jaw, unexplained stage-exits, outbursts, and awkward embraces conveyed shock and dread, just as well as they gave the impression of a retired father struggling with modern existence in some of the most humorous moments of the play. I didn’t believe Bob could look any more devastated by the disintegration of his black-and-white picture of life, until his face was firmly pressed into the freshly-strewn soil of his upturned roses mid-stage.
Indeed, all characters adopted mannerisms and tics which impressed: William Ridd Foxton perfectly captured the jittery toe-tapping of telling one’s parents what you think they never want to hear in the character of Mark. Bailey Finchie’s striding across stage as Ben with freshly washed shirts in tow and the assertion that he ‘Must go, really can’t stay’, only to be tempted by the prospect of lasagne in tupperware, was a stand-out, comic moment. Elise Busset’s portrayal of falling in and out of love as Rosie, the whimsical teen, was faultless, if slightly marred by the use of physical theatre in a lift to represent her swooning. Finally, Imogen Honey Strachen as Pip sung delightfully and produced, what I felt to be, the most modern and uncontrived character of the piece.
Maya Jasinska had a hard role to master as Fran, the formidable mother of the clan. Just as Ibsen struggled to invoke empathy for the wayward mother of Nora in A Doll’s House because of her lack of affection for her children, Fran’s overwhelming bitterness detracted somewhat from the true relatability of her story as a model mother who feels tired and trapped by expectation. Yet, her abrupt attacks in response to her children’s confidences seemed more a matter of scripting, rather than an acting choice. However, I would have liked to have seen more evidence of tenderness, in smiling moments spent with Rosie, filter into her relationship with other characters, to justify the fond response of her children at the end. Nevertheless, this was a moving performance by an actress capable of shedding true tears on stage, as was remarked by another audience member.
Tears were also shed in the audience as the cast donned black for the funereal conclusion. This close-quarters experience of a treasured-home turned suffocating-chamber is well worth a watch this week!