Speaking in Tongues | Griffin Theatre

Speaking in Tongues | Griffin TheatreLeft - Lucy Bell and Caroline Craig. Cover - Caroline Craig, Lucy Bell and Andy Rodoreda. Photos - Brett Boardman

In 2001, Ray Lawrence’s film Lantana was ubiquitous, scooping the pool at the AFI awards and winning rave reviews from critics and audiences with its rhizomatic narrative and stellar performances. Theatregoers had known and loved the story in its earlier incarnation, as the play Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell. It premiered at the SBW Stables Theatre in Griffin’s 1996 season, winning an AWGIE for best play. This year marks the plays fifteenth anniversary, and it is fitting that it is being performed in the intimate space where it all began, under the direction of Griffin’s Artistic Director Sam Strong. It is one of the most anticipated plays in the 2011 theatre calendar, and the Wednesday performance did not disappoint.

To begin with, the play is beautifully written. Bovell has a number of elegant and distinctive works to his credit, including Scenes from a Separation and Who’s Afraid of the Working Class, as well as the screenplays of Strictly Ballroom, Lantana and Head On.

Speaking in Tongues depicts a world of rapidly unravelling relationships, centred on two married couples who set out to betray their partners. In the second act, the play’s scope enlarges to look at other characters lives that have intersected and made an impact on the worlds of Jane, Leon, Sonia and Pete in the first act. While at its heart the play is a mystery, it is also a heart wrenching look at the disconnection experienced by the central characters as they anxiously approach middle age.

Speaking in Tongues underlines the character’s common humanity through the use of overlapping and simultaneously spoken dialogue, and the fact that it is set as a text in a number of tertiary gender studies courses is explained by its revealing look at the fallibility of gender roles and male-female relations.

Strong is one of Australia’s finest directors, and he has obviously relished working with such great material, resulting in considered and believable performances from his cast of four, all of whom play multiple roles convincingly. Andy Rodoreda deserves a special mention for his chameleon like ability to inhabit his three vastly different characters. Popular television actor Caroline Craig plays both the insecure Jane and callous Sarah with ease, while Lucy Bell and Christopher Stollery mine their scenes for both humour and pathos.

Speaking in Tongues is so much more than a domestic drama, but it benefits from being staged in such an intimate space, where audiences could see every tremor and hear every intake of breath. The design by Dayna Morrissey is superb in its versatility, taking the audience to bars, hotel rooms, homes, therapists offices and roadside phone booths, and Steve Francis’s sound design is equally evocative.

Speaking in Tongues is a play that has stood the test of time and deserves the title of modern Australian classic. Intricate and erudite, it is a production that would reward repeated viewings. If nothing else, it should stimulate some interesting conversations between partners on the trip home.

Griffin Theatre presents

by Andrew Bovell

Director Sam Strong

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod St, Kings Cross
Previews: 4, 5, 7, 8 February, 2011
Dates: 10 February – 19 March, 2011
Times: Monday-Saturday 7pm, Saturday matinee 2pm
Tickets: Full $47; Seniors $38; Concession/Preview/Matinee $34; Group $38; Under 30 $28 (Mon-Thurs). Booking charges may apply
Bookings: 02 8019 0292 | griffintheatre.com.au

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