Andrew Bovell’s screen and stage plays have won him many awards and accolades in Australia and internationally over the years.
You may recall his brilliant screenplay Lantana, adapted from his stageplay Speaking in Tongues, which won him an AWGIE back in 1997.
The current season of his play Things I Know to be True at the New Theatre in Newtown has been described as “good on the daily frictions of [family] life,” and indeed it is.
Set in Adelaide, it focuses on the tensions within the Price family; Fran and Bob the parents; 19-year-old youngest daughter Rosie; oldest sibling Pip, an education bureaucrat; eldest son Mark, who wants to change his gender to become “Mia”; and youngest son Ben, who admits to skimming $.25 million dollars from the financial services company he works for.
Like most baby boomers, Fran and Bob have prioritised their children’s happiness, and this leads to the kids feeling that their happiness is indeed life’s number one priority, and that they are entitled, even empowered, to take any decision that furthers their personal goals.
On the other hand, Bob has envisaged an enduring domestic life in the home he and Fran have created, with children and grandchildren gathered around him in the garden. Unbeknown to him, we discover over the course of the play that Fran has often thought of leaving.
Pip has left her family, remembering resentfully that her mother pulled her hair when she was 14 years old. She is married with two children, but has fallen in love with a married man she meets at a conference in Vancouver.
Ben is swindling money to be part of the cool crowd. Shocking his parents, Mark chooses gender reassignment, thinking he will be happier as a woman, and Rosie seeks love and adventure on a solo European holiday, returning with a sorry tale of how the man she fell in love with robs her blind. She then chooses to study at the other end of Australia.
The choices their children make are miles away from Fran and Bob’s post-war values of duty, family, selflessness, and self-sacrifice. All credit to Fran and Bob – it is a loving family – but the tensions between the generations show that Bob cannot live forever in domesticity fixed in aspic.
Do the kid’s choices lead to happiness? Definitely not in Pip’s and Ben’s cases, while the jury is still out on Mark and Rosie.
Director Hailey McQueen has devised clever ways of moving characters into, and out of, the spotlight on the minimal set, while composer and sound designer Rhiannon Jean subtly enhances the emotional nuances of Bovell’s clever, funny and compassionate script.
Presently celebrating its ninetieth year, the New Theatre is to be congratulated in presenting another fine production for its audiences to enjoy.
Until 17 December
New Theatre, 542 King St, Newtown