‘…it goes on. Life. It goes on.’
Few things in the world are more like a family than the cast and crew of a theatre production, especially one presented by the Sydney University Dramatic Society (SUDS). Family, with all its blessings and pitfalls, is the crux of Australian theatre luminary Andrew Bovell’s play Things I Know To Be True, and the family that is SUDS Slot 6 have made something pretty special.
Things follows the fracturing of a tight-knit Adelaide family; the children grow older, the parents more jaded. This is two hours of emotionally (and physically, given its location at the Cellar Theatre) intimate theatre: each member of the six-person cast strongly embodies their character, capturing the joys and sorrows of family life.
The barrage of dilemmas that faces parents Fran Price (Rose Fitz), the quintessential matriarch, and her simple husband Bob (a jaunty Will Torney) begins when their youngest daughter Rosie, played by a superbly innocent Aqsa Suryana, returns home from Berlin, her heart broken. Her sister Pip (Lucia Carlton) announces that she’s leaving her comfortable life in Adelaide for a mysterious ‘job opportunity’ in Canada. Then comes Mark (Jeremy Jenkins), who breaks some momentous news about their identity, to Bob and Fran’s dismay. To add to the parents’ worries, their accountant son Ben, a charismatically shady Harry Peters, confesses to some pretty questionable activities. Combine the chaos of each sibling’s story with the ageing and falling-out-of-love that Bob and Fran are experiencing, some dejected reminiscences of a simpler past life, and a considerable amount of financial stress, and you’ve got the intense family drama that is Things I Know To Be True.
The casting for this production could not have been better; each actor is immersed in their character, which is testament to their acting chops and great guidance from director Daisy Semmler. A standout performance is Fitz’s nuanced portrayal of Fran; she perfectly depicts the character’s authoritative and strong, yet sensitive and steadfast, motherhood. Suryana’s innocence as the naïve Rosie is wholesome, and Jenkins’ Mark is superbly frustrated by their parents’ ignorance. Father Bob’s loss of composure in Act 2 contrasts well with his laid-back attitude in Act 1 —Torney’s vocal dynamics do well to set up the shock of the placid dad’s sudden blow-up.
A significant challenge of Bovell’s script is the number of intense, lengthy monologues, but this is well-handled by Semmler and Assistant Directors Danny Yazdani and Georgie Eggleton, who inspire nuanced and engaging performances.
Annie Fraser’s lighting is effective; much of the play is realistically lit, however between scenes, projectors show vignettes of the characters’ childhood footage, an inspired choice which adds just that bit more poignancy to the mess of each sibling’s adulthood. A beautiful moment saw Fran lit in a deep purple light as she thought over a cigarette, the smoke surrounding her in a psychedelic fog. The edges of the stage (where the garden lies) remain largely in darkness throughout the play, intensifying the raw, intimate nature of characters’ monologues.
Elodie Roumanoff and Patrick Fuccilli’s set is a classic Aussie kitchen looking out onto a rose garden, a large tree in the corner. A row of roses in front of the kitchen table (centre-stage) provides a boundary between the actors and audience, which is hard to achieve in the Cellar Theatre. Somehow the set feels infinitely larger than the theatre, a credit to the designers and assistants.
The play’s staging was adept; Semmler’s blocking amplifies moments of symbolism. When Fran reads a heartfelt letter from Pip in Vancouver, Pip reads it out from afar. As Fran reads the letter, coming to terms with her daughter’s decision, she wanders closer and closer to her, until the letter ends and the two are within a metre of each other, only a wall separating them. Mark’s powerful farewell monologue is driven home with a confident step over the row of roses, into an unknown but hopeful new world.
Alec Traill’s costuming is accurate and realistic; much of the play sees Bob in a tucked-in button-up and Fran in nurses’ scrubs. Ben, the buttoned-up accountant, keeps the one suit on all throughout the play, but Traill keeps it versatile by removing and adding layers. At the end of the play, the characters are united through clothing colour, signifying the ultimate connection of family.
Regrettably, the production’s sound design is almost unnoticeable. We hear the occasional gust of wind, drizzle of rain or birdsong. A bigger soundscape would’ve made the production that much more immersive. That said, the chaos of characters’ arguments doesn’t leave much room for sound effects.
There’s a lot to love about this production. Its cast and crew have put a lot of heart and soul into it, and it shows.