Speaking in Tongues

Emma Bedford

Andrew Bovell’s modern Australian classic explores intimacy, trust and the darker side of emotions.
Speaking in Tongues
Described by director Geordie Brookman as a ‘complex, intelligent and quietly innovative piece of playwriting’, (finally) this is a work presented by the State Theatre Company of South Australia with some meat on its bones.

Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues inspired the screenplay for the iconic Australian film Lantana. Twisting plot lines surge through disturbingly familiar suburban scenes, in a world populated with self-serving, emotional beings.

Victoria Lamb’s set design starts out in the abstract and ends in hyper-realism. The stage concludes abruptly as though severed from the earth, and while Lamb’s design makes good use of darkness and distance, there are many scene changes, making it difficult to see why these interiors are so painstakingly well drawn. Like the characters themselves, the feel of the play is inconsistent. Then again, perhaps this is precisely the point.

Two male and two female actors play nine characters over the course of the evening. Terence Crawford delivers a believable first act as Peter, the hard-done-by husband, alongside Leeanna Walsman’s fragile Sonja, but it’s not until after interval that Crawford really hits his strides. Chris Pitman’s two characters are responsible for most of the play’s humorous moments, and Lizzy Falkland’s strongest performance comes in Act Two, as a woman fumbling with the remains of a crumbling marriage.

DJ TR!P’s sound composition hits the right threatening undertones; Geoff Cobham’s lighting design is beautiful and atmospheric. It’s all here, and although not a loveable play, it is the best thing so far from STC SA for 2011.

For all its pretences and emotional intricacies, this gritty drama is surprisingly dull. It may not be the actors’ fault, when so much is happening on stage. At times audience members run the risk of losing nuances in character as a result of the head-swivelling, multilayered drama.

Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is driven by adult motives, and true to life’s complexities, there are no easy answers and no real questions, except perhaps to ask why it was so uncharacteristically, exceptionally cold in the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Dunstan Theatre on this particular Wednesday night.

Rating: Three and a half stars

Speaking in Tongues
Written by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Geordie Brookman
Design by Victoria Lamb
Lighting Design by Geoff Cobham
Composer/ Sound Design by DJ TR!P

Cast: Terence Crawford, Lizzy Faulkland, Chris Pitman, Leeanna Walsman

Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre July 2 – 24 www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Emma Bedford is a writer, professional audio describer, and general life enthusiast. Emma is also a production manager for theatre, festivals and major events.