Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in Tongues
Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect from Speaking In Tongues, which is not surprising, given author Andrew Bovell’s comment, “I hate theatre when it is exactly what you are expecting it to be.”

The production I saw promised “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.

The play opens with two married couples appearing 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, revealing their frustration, disillusionment, bitterness and guilt.

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 is the only survivor from the first half: the dark sun around which the other worlds blindly orbit. His subtle emotional dishonesty influences the lives of those around him without their knowledge.

This is a brilliantly written play, which fulfils Bovell’s promise of something unexpected, but it isn’t pretentious or difficult to watch. It has tension, mystery and pathos, but it can also be very funny, with 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.

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