REVIEW: SPEAKING IN TONGUES (Cockpit Theatre) ★★

Speaking In Tongues, by award winning Australian writer Andrew Bovell, is a two act play that is made up of a web of interconnected narratives concerning the subjects of love, deceit, sex and possibly even murder.

The first act is a reasonably straightforward, sometimes humorous story, about infidelity between two attractive young couples. The second act includes a murder/missing person mystery which only has a somewhat tenuous link to the first act. Unfortunately, the play feels like a number of good ideas, written as short pieces, but connected together just to make a single, decent length play. The bridges between the pieces are really rather weak and depend on unbelievable coincidences.

I found the performances at the beginning of the first act quite irritating. It opens with a confusing collage of various conversations, as two couples pace back and forth speaking identical dialogue. The two couples are located on diametrically opposite stages, while trying to talk in sync with each other. That might have been acceptable, except that the dialogue was not particularly literate, interesting or exciting and they were not quite in sync. Did this gimmick improve things? I don’t think so. Is it realistic? No.

The story in the first act is that of a married man and a married woman, who happen to meet at a nightclub and decide to leave together for an evening of sex. They are nervous and obviously inexperienced at having affairs. At exactly the same time, by an amazing coincidence, their respective spouses are having an identical encounter with each other at a different nightclub. Then later, by chance, the wives, who are out alone drowning their sorrows, happen to meet in a bar and strike up a conversation, confiding their marital troubles to each other. By coincidence the husbands, in a pub, are doing exactly the same thing. At least by this time they have stopped talking in synchronised drivel.

All four begin to discuss their disintegrating marriages, unaware that the stranger that they are talking to, is in fact their spouse’s one night stand.

Another part of the play (or more exactly a second play shoehorned into the first), concerns a woman (from the first act) who, looking out of her window late at night, witnesses her neighbour with cuts on his face, taking a woman’s shoe out of the back of his car and throwing it onto a piece of waste ground. She is concerned that he might be involved with a reported missing woman and so, after rescuing the discarded shoe, she reports him to the police. He is involved, but he did not kill the woman, he just gave her a lift. Or so he claims.

There are four actors each of whom play a number of different characters. The acting takes place mainly on raised stages on three sides of the periphery of the auditorium. On the fourth side is a large cinema screen on which projected news highlights are shown which illustrates various aspects of the play as it goes along, with wordless clips.

The audience sits in the area between the performance spaces turning to which ever stage or multiple stages are featured at any particular time. The audience sits on fairly well spaced out chairs, for safety sake, which you can swivel through 360 degrees in order to more conveniently follow the action. This unusual layout means that you are in the heart of the action and surrounded by the narrative. Sitting within arms reach of the actors as they walked between stages, made the play more personal and helped involve the audience emotionally during each scene, breaking down that proverbial fourth wall.

The strongest aspect of this play was the performers. Phil Aizlewood, Ben Elder, Georgina Periam and Kate Austen, they were all excellent. However, the structure of the play lacks interest, clarity and quality. The staging of the production, with surrounding stages and pivoted seating, was very original and worked well. Overall the production values deserved a better subject.

Reviewed by Graham Archer