Review: Game of unhappy families is emotionally overwhelming

Ewan Price as Bob Price and Natalie Casey as Pip Price

Ewan Price as Bob Price and Natalie Casey as Pip Price

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Peter Ormerod reviews Things I Know To Be True at Warwick Arts Centre

I’ve never heard as much crying. By the end of the show, the actors’ words were in danger of being drowned out by the audience’s sobs and sniffles. The standing ovation greetings its conclusion confirmed it: this is a play that has a power to move many.

Ewan Stewart as Bob Price and Kirsty Oswald as Rosie Price

Ewan Stewart as Bob Price and Kirsty Oswald as Rosie Price

Presented by theatre company Frantic Assembly, known for its remarkable physicality, Andrew Bovell’s play is an undeniably powerful work about families, secrets and growing up. Imogen Stubbs plays Fran Price, a sharp and fiery mother who is frequently moved to howling fury by her children, all adults in their own right. When she rails at her daughters, Pip (Natalie Casey) and Rosie (Kirsty Oswald), she’s really railing at herself. She indulges son Ben (Richard Mylan) to his detriment. Whether repeating her mistakes or going their own way, their decisions cast a harsh light on the frustrated life of their mother.

There is a lot of haranguing, a lot of nearly-crying. Resentments abound; hopes are shattered; lives are broken. The tone is set at the outset by a striking monologue from Rosie, the youngest daughter, recounting a happy tale of European adventure that birthed dreams of future bliss, but soon turned cold and bleak. The experience leads her to question what she knows to be true; by the play’s end, she at least has some answers, albeit arrived at through tragedy.

The play could have done with more Rosie. She’s the most overtly likable character, the only one whose innocent flickers of hope have not yet been extinguished. This is not a family whose domestic life makes for a pleasant spectacle, nor one whose members offer great company, which compromises somewhat our willingness to spend time with them. In the place of plot are revelations and surprises, none of which is happy.

Indeed, the prevailing emotion here is unhappiness, which is worse than anger. It has corroded these souls. No wonder there were tears – for what happens, and for what might have happened.

Imogen Stubbs as Fran Price

Imogen Stubbs as Fran Price

* Things I Know To Be True runs until Saturday October 22. Call 024 7652 4524 to book.

Ewan Stewart as Bob Price

Ewan Stewart as Bob Price

Ewan Stewart as Bob Price

Ewan Stewart as Bob Price

Kirsty Oswald as Rosie Price

Kirsty Oswald as Rosie Price