Features/What to SEE/Theatre

Home is where the drama is

17 May 2023

Andrew Bovell’s play Things I Know To Be True opens in Perth just before filming commences for the play’s television adaptation, starring Nicole Kidman. Ahead of both events, Bovell talked to Ara Jansen about home and family drama.

What is it about home? We spend our childhoods wanting to leave, get away or explore the world, and our adult lives somehow yearning for what we’ve lost.

It’s one of the themes Kalgoorlie-born playwright Andrew Bovell says still resonates in his 2016 play, Things I Know To Be True.

Bovell has a very keen sense of coming from Perth, even though it has been 40 years since he’s lived here. “I miss it,” he says simply.

Andrew Bovell. Photo: supplied

He’ll have the opportunity to re-connect to the state of his birth – and a family that goes back eight generations – when he sees Things I Know To Be True staged in Perth by Black Swan State Theatre Company later this month. Originally set in suburban Adelaide the play has been re-located to Perth for this production, so expect to recognise some local references.

Black Swan’s new artistic director Kate Champion is making her directorial debut with the company. While Bovell hasn’t been party to the rehearsals, he and Champion have been talking since her appointment was announced last year.

“She approached me and asked if I was interested in a Black Swan production. The play has been out in the world for a while and I wanted to let a new voice like Kate’s have her own version of it. I have been hands off, but a distant hand if needed.”

A drama, Things I Know To Be True is set in the suburban home and backyard of Bob and Fran, played by Humphrey Bower and Caroline Brazier. He’s a retrenched auto factory worker and she’s a nurse. They have four children – Pip (Emma Jackson), Mark (Kaz Kane), Ben (Will O’Mahony) and the youngest Rosie (Laura Shaw).

‘[The play] came out of my interest in exploring the most difficult experiences parents can have…’

Bob and Fran have worked hard to raise good and decent kids, but as each one seeks refuge at home for various reasons, they bring with them dramas, secrets and truths which turn everything upside down.

With a long list of theatre and screen credits to his name, dating back to the mid-90s, Bovell has worked all over the world. In Australia, some of his better-known screen credits include writing the screenplays for Head On, The Fisherman’s Wake and Strictly Ballroom but perhaps his best known is Lantana, based on his stage play Speaking in Tongues. On the film side, his credits include In The Shadow of Iris, A Most Wanted Man, Edge of Darkness, Blessed and The Book of Revelation. He is currently involved in the development of two films.

The multi-award winner lives in Athens with his wife but has spent much of this year in Madrid, seeing to the opening of his play Song of the First Desire, formerly known as El Jardin.

Bovell will make a quick visit to Perth for the opening of Things I Know To Be True. Much of the rest of his year will be spent working on the upcoming Amazon television series based on the play, starring Nicole Kidman, who is also producing.

“I’ll never forget the experience I had watching Andrew’s play and having one of those transcendental theatre experiences,” Kidman said in a recent statement. “Things I Know To Be True is exquisitely crafted, and I know that Black Swan’s production will be beautifully brought to life by Kate Champion and the team she has assembled in Perth.”

The play is steeped in a world of characters and family. Back Row: Will O’Mahony, Humphrey Bower. Second Row: Caroline Brazier, Emma Jackson, Artistic Director Kate Champion, Kaz Kane. Front: Laura Shaw. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

The six-part television series is part of Kidman’s first-look deal with Amazon and will be filmed in various locations including New York, Tennessee, Dubrovnik and Paris. Bovell, who is one of the five executive producers, has written each episode and has re-cast the setting to somewhere in suburban America. He suggests we can expect to see it on-screen some time next year.

“Adapting this play for the TV series has been a big part of my life as it’s steeped in a world of characters and family, including a trans character. Since I’ve written the play, the conversation around trans people has shifted and we’ve had a great trans advisor for this process.

“In the TV series there’s a lot to fill in for six hours as opposed to a two-hour play. You can definitely go into greater depth.”

Bovell says on the whole, the themes of the play – and the TV show – have remained relevant and the conversations, while not too dissimilar to those in 2016, have shifted.

“As a writer I was interested and curious. It’s a play about the parents’ responses to the situation that each of the children present. It came out of my interest in exploring the most difficult experiences parents can have, like the fear you are losing someone you love because you discover that they are still the same person but also different.”

A dad himself, Bovell is clear he’s not telling stories about his children. He says anyone who has kids will “know the feeling of watching your kids grow up and step into the world and thinking they are okay and then watching them stumble, while working out who they are or want to be”.

“Sometimes they make choices you don’t agree with. Either you find a way to accept that or you are going to lose a kid.”

‘The play has a beautiful shape to it, with the changing of the seasons and each one corresponding to the children’s stories. That’s a shape I’m also able to use for the TV series.’

The writer left home and left Perth at age 20, knowing the East Coast was where he needed to be as a playwright. He says he remembers his parents being really worried about whether he was going to make it and be okay. After seeing his own kids off, he knows now exactly how they felt. For that, he calls Things I Know To Be True somewhat of a homage to his parents.

The play was written after Bovell’s mother passed away and his youngest child had not only left home but gone to study in another city.

“The play has a beautiful shape to it, with the changing of the seasons and each one corresponding to the children’s stories. That’s a shape I’m also able to use for the TV series. As a writer I’m always looking for pillars to hold up the work.”

Given all the crises which happen to this family over a year, it does beg the question as to whether any family can have that many things happen to them. Bovell admits it is a bit of a conceit but suggests it’s a needed compression of common experiences brought together for an audience to resonate with deeply.

“The complexities of growing up, death or finding your voice as a young woman – these are all common experiences. I have three kids and they throw up some disaster at least once a year.

“I love this play because it’s about a suburban family and so many people come from that world. I related to that.”

Things I Know To Be True plays the Heath Ledger Theatre, 27 May – 18 June 2023

Pictured top: Actors Humphrey Bower and Laura Shaw. Photo: Frances Andrijich

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

Past Articles

  • Master and apprentices leave you thirsty for more 

    A collaboration between Thirsty Merc’s Rai Thistlethwayte and WAAPA’s contemporary music students showcases creativity and talent. It’s also loads of fun, writes Ara Jansen.

  • Blasko adds a tender touch to Twelfth Night

    Singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko may not seem like an obvious choice of composer for Bell Shakespeare’s retelling of Twelfth Night, but as she tells Ara Jansen, there’s more to this comedy than initially meets the eye.

Read Next

  • Reading time • 10 minutesFringe World Festival
  • Carina Roberts and Gakuro Matsui in The Nutcracker How to watch ballet

    How to watch ballet

    16 November 2023

    If you’ve booked tickets to Christmas favourite The Nutcracker and you’re not sure what to expect, look no further! Rita Clarke has you covered.

    Reading time • 10 minutesDance
  • Reading time • 7 minutesMulti-arts

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio


Cleaver Street Studio