Speaking in Tongues

by Andrew Bovell

Directed by John McSpadyen

Tuesday 2nd - Saturday 6th July, 2013

The Tower Theatre performing
at the Bridewell Theatre

Photography by David Sprecher

"I didn't know what to expect from Speaking In Tongues, if only because the sole clue in the programme was Australian author Andrew Bovell's comment 'I hate theatre when it is exactly what you are expecting it to be.'

More helpful is the flyer, which promises 'a number of separate but interlinked stories .. nine parallel lives connected by four infidelities, one missing person and a mysterious stiletto ... encounters, confessionals and interrogations that gradually reveal the darker side of human nature.' Oh goody, grab the popcorn.

Nothing promises Australian gothic better than Nick Cave, whose Do You Love Me? plays as two married couples appear in separate hotel bedrooms - but the husbands are with the wrong wives. Their conversations interweave and overlap as each tries to come to terms with the guilt of what they may or may not be about to do. This scene is beautifully written and very, very hard to perform as the characters have to say some lines simultaneously in different conversations, with the doubled-up voices giving extra power to such lines as 'I just wanted to feel something' and 'I wanted to know if I was still attractive.'

The first half follows these four characters as their stories move together and apart in a choreographed dance of dialogue to the soundtrack of Cave's twisted romantic ballads. All four actors are excellent in their portrayal of frustration, disillusionment, bitterness and guilt, while Julie Arrowsmith, resplendent in her red dress, adds an unconquered sexuality to her character's insecurity, giving her performance an authority that anchors the first half.

In the second half, new characters take up the stories alluded to in the first half, and the threads of their stories fray and tangle delightfully. Leon, the policeman played by Laurence Ward, is the only survivor from the first half : the dark sun around which the other worlds blindly orbit. His subtle acting brought out the humour of Leon's emotional dishonesty, influencing the lives of those around him without their knowledge.

Given the characters' near-permanent state of emotional crisis, the temptation to over-act is almost irresistible. Maybe it was resisted too successfully in the scene where Jane tells her husband that she might have witnessed the aftermath of a murder, as the scene lacked energy and tension and created a subdued mood after a gripping and funny first half. Later, John's interrogation about his wife's disappearance needed a bit more passion, although I'm sure the director would argue that the absence of passion revealed something far more interesting about John. Apart from those moments, the director and cast are to be commended for avoiding the temptation to turn the play into a carnival of histrionics.

This was a brilliantly written play, splendidly acted by a strong cast. The play fulfils Bovell's promise of something unexpected, but it isn't pretentious or difficult to watch. It had tension, mystery and pathos, but it was also very funny in places - not funny like 'Despicable Me 2'; more like the humour of people who talk without communicating and try to control their own worlds but are blind to the other people and events that shape their lives.

(Patrick Neylan for Sardines magazine)

Meet the Director and cast ...

Leon : Laurence Ward
Sonja : Julie Arrowsmith
Pete : Craig Carruthers
Jane : Anna Dimdore
Neil : Chris McCrudden
Sarah : Jill Ruane
Valerie : Ruth Sullivan
Nick : Andrew Steele
John : Martin South

Production Team
Director : John McSpadyen
Set Design : Jude Chalk
Costume Design : Sheila Burbidge
Lighting Design : Andy Peregrine
Sound Design : Phillip Ley

Stage Manager : Richard Davies
ASMs : Ian Hoare, Martin Brady
Lighting Operator : Ruth Anthony
Sound Operator : Michael Bettell
Set Construction : Keith Syrett and members of the cast & crew
Publicity : Ruth Sullivan, Ann Blumenstock