Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is an indisputable classic of the Australian stage. Bovell’s labyrinthine explorations of interpersonal relationships and individual crises seem to aptly summarise both the strange and powerful connections that underpin community at large and the vague frailty and creeping paranoia that seem painfully specific to Australian suburban culture.
ANTiX’s rendition of Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues – co-produced under Metro Arts’ Allies program – is unfortunately somewhat less remarkable. In fairness to director Anthea Patrick and her ensemble, they don’t fumble with the work. There’s nothing about the production that one could characterise as genuinely lacking. From staging through to acting, ANTiX’s Speaking in Tongues is clear and effective.
The issue is that the work rarely rises above the perfunctory. It is competent and functional but in no way transcendent. It may be difficult to highlight flaws within the work but it’s substantially more of a challenge to outline anything resembling distinctive strengths within the production. The greatest compliment one could pay the ensemble is that they have translated an unnervingly complex and multi-layered script to the stage with minimal foibles. It is, however, difficult to award too much praise to what is essentially mere competency.
The production’s problem seems to relate to a lack of refinement. All of the foundational elements are clearly present within the work – Bovell’s script is obviously exceptional, Patrick’s directorial grasp is strong enough to keep a decent pace while both stage designs and individual performances sufficiently establish a series of different characters and settings – but there isn’t sufficient depth to the work. One finds oneself captivated more by the intricacies of the mysterious narrative than the emotional experiences of the characters behind that narrative.
The work of Ngoc Pham, for example, is distinctive but decidedly lacking in empathy. Charged with bringing to life both the conflicted and passionate Sonja and flighty and fragile Sarah, Pham manages to sketch out the physicality and general emotional state of her two characters but rarely evinces any genuine empathetic understanding of the plight of either woman and, as such, denies the audience any similar connection. That said, one could apply these criticisms to any of the four cast members. They all master the broad strokes without really grasping the details.
In another play, this could be a forgivable oversight. The issue is that Speaking in Tongues is a work fundamentally concerned with the perspectives and experiences of its characters. The narrative is masterful but it deliberately leaves numerous details ambiguous and multiple threads undeveloped because it isn’t a work devoted to a memorable story arc – it’s a construction geared towards examining interpersonal relationships and the impact those relationships have on the individual. To this end, one can’t help but feel dissatisfied with ANTiX’s presentation of the work.
ANTiX and Metro Arts Allies presents
Speaking in Tongues
by Andrew Bovell
Director Anthea Patrick
Venue: The Studio, Metro Arts | 109 Edward St, Brisbane
Dates: July 20 – August 6, 2011
Times: Tuesday – Saturday, 7.30pm
Tickets: Adults $20. Conc. $16
Bookings: (07) 3002 7100 | www.metroarts.com.au