As big chief of the Invitation Theatre Company and partner of Anthony, conductor of The Full Tone Orchestra, you cannot deny, Jemma Brown knows a thing or two about performing arts, so I’ve pinched her words of praise after watching Things I Know to be True at the Wharf Theatre…….
Jemma Brown – 26.4.19
I don’t think I have ever heard so many people, prior to me going to see something, telling me how incredible it is. So, it was with a gently raised eyebrow, that I went to see Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know to be True – directed by a friend, with good friends in it, on a stage that has an awful lot of personal connection, I girded my loins. Now before I launch into what I thought of it all, one must know that I am horribly critical, an awful theatre goer, and the fact that I know the performers and director, my thoughts must not be deemed as bias. Because I would tell you how it is.
It was totally and utterly beautiful. Beautiful.
It made me think about every single possible aspect of life. The love, the pain, the happiness, the sadness, the euphoria, the devastation. And, what’s important.
The set – simple, sensual, unfussy – was the perfect setting for what lay ahead. Six breathtakingly superb performers, performing a piece that is so brilliantly written meant I was hooked from the second it started. The lighting, and the setting was sublime. I loved the fact simple accents were used, because it meant each cast member could grasp the text and tell the story and it made them all the more relatable.
The use of film, laying out a relationship of a family, was an inspired and delicate way to set everything out. We knew from it, that we were going to be meeting a family who loved each other. It drew me in, and it made me gently weep. And how it made me feel at the end…. not everything you see is how it is. The things you know, they change, and they grow.
Interspersed throughout was the most wonderful physical theatre, to the most brilliantly chosen music that enveloped you. The dance elements fell into place like a comfortable shoe, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. And they made me brim with tears. The interconnections between the family was brought to life by this touch and made all the more powerful by the tenderness as it was steered by the cast. A glass of wine that passed from one to another at one point, like it floated. The brother and sister connection that playfully danced.
The coming together of all of them to support and move and just be there, in gentle, significant movements was just stunning. The scene at the end was quite simply one of the most powerful and beautifully executed pieces of theatre I have ever seen. I couldn’t get out of the theatre quick enough at the end so I could get to my car and howl. And I sobbed. I sobbed because of the story, but I sobbed because those six people, the director and the technical team had created something so beautiful, it was all I could do. When I got home, I couldn’t explain what I had just seen, I sobbed and I jumbled a sobbing garble to my husband about what I had just seen. I held my daughter so tight and just could not tell her deeply enough how much I loved her. The effect the whole production had on me was profound. And I really am not the only one. This play has deeply touched everyone who has seen it.
The four children were played by four exceptional actors, each of whom played their roles with such excellence, I found myself wondering why they aren’t all on the professional stage. I forgot I was at The Wharf and that they all have normal lives. They handled their characters with such care and maturity – real kudos to Freddie Underwood and her exemplary direction. I just knew that rehearsal process had been special, that what they had undertaken was a passion for the text and for their director. Because it showed.
Jessica Whiley as Rosie was enchanting. Her storytelling and perfect diction had me feeling and believing and imagining every single thing she was telling us. I felt the love she felt, I felt the passion she had had and I wanted to go home and share a bowl of cereal with the love of MY life. She captured the sense of travelling but wanting to be at home just perfectly. Her performance throughout was captivating. She broke my heart at the end of the play, her gentle voice and the beautiful but devastating words that came tumbling out of her mouth made me want to bawl. Her performance was outstanding.
Lou Cox, a stalwart of theatre, surpassed my expectations as Pip. Her characterisation of the role drew you in and you felt every feeling that she had. Her brilliant usage of inflections and the light and shade of her expertly executed use of the stage and the script meant that you knew who she was, her relationship with her mother and her siblings. Her relationship with every other character on stage was real and unmistakable. Lou’s handling of the character meant you knew exactly who Pip was, it was a striking and beautiful performance. I felt the pull she felt and that earth-shattering realisation that you need to follow your heart.
Fraser Normington as Ben – I loved him. His flexibility within the character was excellent. He caught the busyness of his life perfectly. He looked good, he sounded good and when he royally messed up, his manic panic was caught so brilliantly, I thought I was going to have a panic attack.
Karl Montgomery-Williams played the role of Mark magnificently. We knew something was wrong, he brought something to the stage when we first met him that we could just feel there wasn’t something right. As it unfolded, his storytelling was exquisite. His sensitivity to the subject, his relationship with Rosie and the response to his parents, was heartbreakingly brilliant. Again, you just felt every emotion, every word. His performance was remarkable.
Debby Wilkinson and Paul Butler as Fran and Bob. Well what can I say. I have seen these two perform and have been lucky enough to be on stage with both of them. They blew me away. Paul was bimbling and kind, and his parenting was just what every child needs; calm, gentle, principled. You yet again, felt who he was and felt every inch of his loyalty to his wife and the life they had made together and that he had always done what he thought was right. His aversion to swearing and how he reacted to it made you never want to swear again – yet his ‘F*CK YOU’ was one of the highlights for me. Because it came from Paul as Bob in such a way at the direction towards his son, the disappointment and pure and innate despair, was palpable. It hung in the air, it bounced around the theatre, we felt it. But his relationship with his wife was beautiful was what I loved the most – he broke my heart, his performance when he broke was simply heartbreakingly beautiful – his collapsing on his beloved roses made me want to howl, holding that in was near on impossible, but he captured absolute, all-encompassing pain, gut wrenchingly perfectly.
In response to his portrayal of Bob, Debby played the part of Fran with extraordinary professionalism and realism. She was quite truly excellent. Her connections with the words, the emotion, her relationship with each of her children was breathtakingly intense. She made me feel like I didn’t know who she was – I thought I had her, then she changed. A friend of mine hated her character, describing her as a bitch – I didn’t see her as a bitch, I just saw her and felt her as someone who just didn’t quite know how to ‘be’, her children were all different and the one who was the most like her was the one who she loathed.
So, was she self-loathing? Was that what the problem was? I just did not know, and that was down to how to she was directed, but also how she interpreted such a great and complex piece of writing that captured so many issues and feeling and life experiences. Her handling of the character, the script, the stunning, stunning movement that was incorporated and then her explosion at one of her sons that simply took my breath away, made me weep – her brilliance made me weep.
The production was better than clever. There is just so much in it to talk about. The characterisations of each character left me totally unable to explain what I had just seen. The lighting and music made me want to tap on the lighting box door and tell them how excellently they had handled it all (a real rarity), but the whole vision from the director that had spilled out onto the stage and in her performers, was exemplary. The pure emotion that had been poured into every single aspect was truly on a professional level. It did, quite frankly, blow me away. Even when I sensed there might have been a few line struggles, it just didn’t matter. It was slick, it was calm, and you felt them all working together to make the whole thing ‘happen’.
One thing I know to be true, was that it was, quite frankly, one of the best pieces of live theatre I have ever seen.
And not just because it is an incredible script, but because of who directed it, her tech team and who she had cast to be in it.