If you think you have interminable family dilemmas at home, just wait until you meet the Prices in Things I Know to be True, currently packing the house at the Heath Ledger Theatre.
The celebrated WA writer Andrew Bovell (Lantana, When the Rain Stops Falling), has created an engrossing, refreshingly complex, family drama that leaves us questioning and reflecting upon the highs and lows of life among our nearest and dearest.
This is one of the finer productions staged by Black Swan of late; a sure sign that the company is in safe hands with new Artistic Director Kate Champion at the helm.
Tolstoy’s famous Anna Karenina intro, “All families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” rings true for Bovell’s working class tribe, happily ensconced in the family abode at Booragoon.
At curtain up, we are left guessing by a mysterious phone call which is not immediately explained, and hangs ominously with the audience throughout the play. Who was on the other end of the line, and what news do they have?
Then we are swept off to the European working holiday of youngest child Rosie (Emma Shaw) a sojourn on the Continent that does not end well. She returns to the WA fold lovelorn and disheartened.
All seems fine when the raucous family gleefully gathers to greet the returning prodigal child.
Yet while outwardly seeming a quite normal, average Aussie clan, full of the unique quirks and personalities that make up a close-knit family, the Prices face a raft of personal issues and dilemmas.
These are both painful and tragic, and the thread of the story deftly works its way through this labyrinth of domestic sagas.
No family member is without some selfish regret, mistake, or undisclosed secret, all of which help to add grist to the mill that is imperfect Price family life. The family projects as ‘normal’ but in many ways is far from it.
Most of these problems must be faced and managed by long-suffering parents Fran (Caroline Brazier ) and Bob (Humphrey Bower) who are tired and resigned to the omnipresent trials and tribulations of raising four free-spirited, grown children.
Fran escapes to a demanding job in the medical profession, while Bob, a retired sheet metal worker, tends to his beloved roses. Neither seems entirely happy with their own lot, and this regularly bubbles angrily to the surface in their fraught dealings with wayward offspring.
In fact, they vent their own frustrations on the kids, all of whom have hefty situations to deal with of their own. Nevertheless the parents still fear the dreaded empty nest syndrome as their kids start to make their own way in the world.
Bovell has an uncanny ability to turn what might otherwise be prosaic domestic scenarios into riveting theatre (no easy feat). His sparkling dialogue, simple but universal storylines, and clever theatrical artistry, make for excellent, credible drama.
Couple this with good acting and clever production and the magical mix is there for all to see. Non-binary actor Kaz Kane adds an extra dimension to the play with their sympathetic role as Mark, whose unexpected announcement has his family reeling.
The Black Swan set is simple and sparse, but it doesn’t matter. A moveable kitchen bench, sliding glass door and Bob’s beloved rose bed, is all that is required. These are simply shuffled about to suit each scene and it works a treat.
The players do the rest, bringing Bovell’s pacey family tale to life with aplomb.
There is levity, wit, cynicism, anger, and sadness aplenty, and we are left wondering what really lies just beneath the surface for millions of families out there in the real world. One thing is for sure: it is not always a bed of roses.
CAST Humphrey Bower, Caroline Brazier, Emma Jackson, Kaz Kane, Will O’Mahony, Laura Shaw
DIRECTOR Kate Champion SET & COSTUME DESIGNER Zoë Atkinson LIGHTING DESIGNER Mark Howett COMPOSER/SOUND DESIGNER Ash Gibson Greig SHOW HEAD OF AUDIO Tim Collins VOCAL COACH Luzita Fereday FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER Nastassja Norwood STAGE MANAGER Izzy Taylor ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER Riley Billyeald.
DURATION 2 hrs 15 mins (including interval)
RECOMMENDED 15 +
CONTENT WARNINGS Mature themes including grief/loss, coarse language, use of herbal cigarettes and theatrical haze.