Speaking in Tongues

Lynne Lancaster

GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY: Andrew Bovell’s intricately interconnected masterpiece returns under the direction of Sam Strong.
Speaking in Tongues
Now regarded as a contemporary Australian classic, Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues – a play about trust, guilt, love, connections, loss and the disintegration of relationships, particularly within marriage – was originally performed at the SBW Stables Theatre in 1996. It was later adapted for the screen as Lantana in 2001.

The play has three parts but is performed in two halves. Somewhat unusually structured, it is excellently written, having something of the feel of a radio play (such as Under Milk Wood) with the voices of the various characters interweaving in counterpoint, especially in the opening scenes of the first and second halves of the play. Bovell employs suspenseful narrative storytelling and apparently coincidental encounters to mask the deep unease and the looming sense of tension, anxiety, and loneliness which hovers over the characters.

Back to the current stage revival: director Sam Strong (also Griffin’s Artistic Director) has got things just right with his fabulous cast of four (Lucy Bell, Caroline Craig, Andy Rodoreda and Chris Stollery) playing nine characters, all finely tuned, in this gripping mystery/thriller.

Once more Sydneysiders are being spoilt with a chance to see some of Australia's top acting talent, and all four give searing performances.

The show opens with two couples who have temporarily ditched their marriage partners embarking on one-night stands. Leon and Jane do get together, but Pete and Sonja don’t – they flee separately into the night.

In the emotional fallout from their infidelities which follows, Leon (Stollery) and Jane (Craig) both recount disturbing and mysterious stories to their partners involving missing people and pairs of shoes. In the second half, the same actors play other characters central to these stories.

Caroline Craig plays Jane and Sarah – one a rather gauche and nervy wife who is unhappy in her marriage; the other a cynical, self-centred, rather sinister and manipulative woman seeking help from a therapist, Valerie.

Lucy Bell plays Sonja – confused and slightly unstable perhaps; a woman who superficially appears to have everything but whose life and marriage is in crisis. Bell also plays unhappy therapist Valerie, a terrified victim.

Stollery, with his handsome features plays Leon, a cop with a sharp wit and bruised humanity who eventually finds that yes, he does still love his wife.

Rodoreda plays Pete in the first half and John, Valerie’s guilt- wracked husband in the second half of the play.

Fine performances by all, high calibre ensemble work, and subtle changes of hair/clothing/accessories (and attitude) help distinguish the various characters.

Dayna Morrisey’s set for this tiny, intimate theatre is an anonymous ‘everywhere’ set that doubles as a hotel room, the hotel bar, and a posh house. There is a curved, reflective mirror-like back wall for the first half; for the second half some of it is boarded up, the floor is strewn with ashes, and we get to see the bush that Valerie flees into. The set is excellently compliment by Danny Pettingil’s excellent lighting.

Magnificent performances add to what is already a great Australian play in a tense, terrific production. If you haven't already purchased tickets, don't walk, stampede to the Griffin box office to book for this intense firecracker of a show.

Speaking in Tongues

Written by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Sam Strong
Stars Lucy Bell, Caroline Craig, Andy Rodoreda and Chris Stollery

At the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross
February 10 – March 19

What the Other Critics Said

Sydney Morning Herald: “For his first production as Griffin's new artistic director, Sam Strong has assembled a fine creative team and an immensely talented and able cast … A must see.”

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.