Directed by Toby Schmitz
Red Line Productions
Old Fitz Theatre
Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Season: 12 July – 12 August
This Much is True is Louis Nowra's new commissioned work for the Old Fitz Theatre, and appropriately it's a kind of loving ode to the Fitz and the colourful characters who reside there at the pub. It takes the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction and proves it to a tee, presenting a gamut of utterly fascinating stories on the stage by the theatrical realisations of the people who have experienced them. It feels deeply connected to its performance space, right at home. It suffers a little under a loose narrative structure (which I suppose is natural given that life's tales don't really tend to fit neatly into beginning, middle and end) and its storytelling doesn't always feel like it's heading in an overarching direction - but there is so much beauty in some of those stories that I really didn't mind so much.
When entering the theatre you could easily mistake the actors for audience members and vice versa - because the show has been well cast to represent the people who frequent this place. Anna Gardiner's production design fondly captures the essence of the Fitz, with a smattering of theatre posters stuck on the wall, frosted windows and subdued lighting - it's all a bit grubby, in the best kind of way. Nowra's new work is very 'meta'. It's about a writer named Lewis (a fictionalised version of Nowra) who decides to hang out at the Fitz for a year with the regulars to inspire new storytelling. This is just like what Nowra did to craft this play. It is self-referential to his process of writing throughout the story and makes self-aware jokes about contested versions of events and what Louis should and should not write about.
Ultimately it is the strong and varied ensemble of characters, inspired by real Fitz regulars, that make this play a delight to watch. The calibre of performance is so high, and the actors make you fall in love with these non-fiction characters. Justin Stewart-Cotta is captivating as the ravishing Venus, with a knack for acerbic comedy. Alan Dukes is suitably leery, pulling off dodgy business with flair. Robin Goldsworthy toes the line between being sweet and rather likeable participant in the gentrification of Woolloomooloo, and being downright despicable. It’s an engaging performance. Martin Jacobs plays Clarrie, the experimental drug manufacturer, with such tenderness that we as an audience care so deeply about a fervently irresponsible and amoral man – that takes skill.
Louis Nowra has created a new play that sings with love for the Fitz and its vastly fascinating history. A part of its charm was in the sentimental location and its deep-rooted connection to its stage, and yet I think the characterisations inherent in the play are so powerful that it could be translated to other stages far away from the Fitz pub doors. Toby Schmitz has brought this production to glimmering life, drawing together warm and moving performances from everyone in the cast. An unassuming pub like the Fitz witnesses the strange comings and goings of life every day. This Much is True honours an eclectic handful of this rich history, and it is a riveting experience.