Things I Know To Be True

Romsey Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society [RAODS]  The Plaza, Romsey  David A Putley

8 May 2024

It was with some trepidation I attended the performance of this play, especially when advertising material contains sentences including “immersive theatre”. I wonder if others were put off by such references as I sadly looked around at the small set of attendees.

Yet the play is more than worthy of a watch just to see amateur performers/production team tackling such a difficult play, yet making it seem so easy and accessible. Such hard work has clearly gone into this production and the following comments will be a list of superlatives for the cast and a very professional team of lighting, sound and staging.

Set in Australia (but without the attempt of accent, which I thought a very wise move as it would be a distraction), it presents four adult children of the Price Family each of whom returns home (which they are trying to escape from) presenting challenging circumstances to test the ability of their ageing parents, Bob and Fran, to roll with changing attitudes too.

For much of the play, it is unclear who is at the centre of the story: each child shares a glimpse into their world with direct address monologues (the letter scene was particularly beautifully done) and within that the cast of 6 move in and out of each other’s scenes emphasising or otherwise their continued presence in each other’s lives. The supposedly tight-knit family thread begins to fray with every unhappy secret revealed and subsequent response. I am not sure any of the characters are particularly likeable as written, but the performances were brilliant in depth and emotion.

Michele Arkle as Fran and Paul Green made an impressive team (Fran refers to them as a good team) both showing a wide range of emotions yet clearly dysfunctional. Much of their dialogue refers to their own expectation of the consequences of children being like them, this being the cause of the subsequent conflict. Although loving within their own context, they trade roles of hero and villain depending on whose favourite child arrives next. Michele does well to be both hard as nails yet when dancing with her husband you realise why they are together. The final scenes between them were well presented with empathy and warmth. Fran’s moment with the blanket was exceptional.

From the opening, Lexie Harrison hooked the audience, expertly explaining her journey about leaving home, falling in love and experiencing heartbreak in a foreign country. Her performance was mesmerising at times. Cat Wooldridge as Pip poignantly explores the experience of being the older child. As stated, the letter scene was so beautifully expressed by both actors on stage as she almost dares to write her life story, reliving a trauma only she could understand and blaming her Mother.

Oliver Gratton as Mark carries the emotional weight of the play. No spoilers except to say he gives a powerfully raw and pitiful performance as someone reconciling their true identity with how their family sees them. A lovely touch was Rosie trying to walk her hand along the table to give physical comfort in her brother’s distress yet, at the last-minute, recoiling.

In a similar strong performance, Harvey Bateman as Ben is swept up with the possibility of financial success. Clearly lacking in the morals of his parents to obtain the “flash” car and lifestyle, the scenes with his Father were very well put together and performed.  Ben’s reaction to all this was pure terror at the realisation of disappointment and having to then “do the right thing”.

The set was well thought out: the planting of the rose bushes and turning of the season reflected in their bloom and subsequent demise added further depth to the family circumstance.

And the immersive movement does not detract: indeed, I finally realised they were interludes. Harry Andreou utilised his great choreographical skills to move furniture ( the chair whizzing into place was superb) and his cast to emphasise their connections and in some cases, literal support as cast are lifted and carried in time of need. His attention to detail, be it the rose bushes, the shed, the naturalness of the dialogue and a clear ability to allow his cast and team to up their game is to be soundly applauded. Indeed, the production was most professional in look, light and sound.

I enjoyed the underscoring of the monologues with just the right tone and level, with Chris Moses weaving his usual magic in this area. Lighting from the start was just sublime, the way the characters first appeared in half spotlight was clever and expertly done, Richard Tasker and Nigel Roach clearly enjoying overcoming some of the challenges this play presents.

This is an affecting piece of theatre and something RAODS does so well. It is relevant to the difficult situations families face, no less emotionally, and discussed around the dinner table today. Such was the absorption, I found myself wanting to know what happened next!

In any event, the play offers a powerful reminder that we must all do well to react with compassion and love to those closest to us in whatever time we have with them. For something quite different, I would highly recommend getting a ticket. And it is “live” theatre which is never a bad thing.

“Things I Know to be True” plays at the Plaza Theatre, Romsey until Saturday 11th May.