Speaking in Tongues
29 September 2009
Andrew Bovell, as we know from When The Rain Stops Falling, is a wizard from Oz who writes fiendishly intricate plays. And this earlier piece, ﬁrst seen at Hampstead in 2000 and later turned into the movie Lantana, has all his trademark ingenuity. But, while it mystiﬁes and entertains, I felt irked by its lack of cultural speciﬁcity: it seems to be happening anywhere-in-general and nowhere-in-particular.
The plot is a theatrical spaghetti junction. It starts with two couples who have brieﬂy jettisoned their married partners, embarking on one-night stands. Although Leon and Jane make it into the sack where Pete and Sonja don’t, both couples echo each other’s dialogue. Matters get stranger when they are edgily re-united with their spouses. Jane, in particular, has an unnerving story to tell about seeing a bloodied neighbour hurling a woman’s shoe into a rubbish dump. The ramiﬁcations of this are explored in the second half, when we learn that the shoe belonged to a therapist suﬀering her own marital trauma.
What Bovell is saying gradually becomes clear: Trust, whether between husband and wife, supposed lovers or therapist and patient, is dismayingly rare; and although we live in a world of hidden connections, we are all sentenced to solitary conﬁnement inside our own skins. More –>
Theatre Review: Speaking in Tongues @ Duke of York’s
29 September 2009
Zefrog – Nicolas Chinardet
Some will already be familiar with the general plot of Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues thanks to Ray Lawrence’s 2001 film, Lantana. Where the film had the luxury of showing all the action in a linear way, the play is, of course, more restricted but also, in many ways, more inventive in its telling of the story.
The opening scenes prove a clever piece of writing and staging where the encounters of two couples run in parallel, the dialogue crisscrossing and overlapping between the pairs. This trick, although it nicely prefigures the rest of the play where the lives of all 9 characters (played by a cast of 4) are interweaving in unsuspected ways, is thankfully short-lived as it gets quickly tiring to follow who is saying what to whom.
The two halves of the play deal mostly with two different sets of characters and, while the
exposition scenes can drag on a bit and slow the story down (the playwright having somehow relinquished the opportunity of showing certain events, rather than telling of them), the play is engrossing, stylish and well choreographed, supported as it is (at least at the beginning) by a powerful set, the character of which strangely seems to fade as the play goes on.
At first rather funny, the plot steadily grows more serious; telling of the chaotic and accidental nature of life and painting a rather dismal portrait of human relationships and highlighting how people can easily hurt each other by, even unintentionally, breaking each other’s trust.
John Simm (Life on Mars) and Lucy Cohu (Torchwood) are only one half of a deft quartet of actors (made complete by Ian Hart and Kerry Fox), that conjures up an evening of powerful and thoughtful theatre.
Men are from Mars in Speaking in Tongues
This is London
Andrew Bovell’s brittle drama of loneliness and betrayal calls to mind that hoary sporting cliché “It’s a game of two halves”. For this is a play that could end at the interval.
In its engrossing first half we see two couples enacting the routines of adultery; their deceptions are synchronised and overlap in a manner at once amusing and creepily erotic. Then in its second, the cast expands to a total of nine characters, and the connections between these nine are revealed. But precise satire gives way to anecdotal rambling, and as the links are explicitly articulated mystery dissolves into a mixture of the prosaic and the improbable.
Bovell’s play, besides suggesting the interweaving of our fates, is a provoking comment on the strangled communication that occurs between men and women. As lovers, we habitually talk at cross purposes — hence the play’s title. More –>
Speaking in Tongues
29 Sptember 2009
At the heart of Andrew Bovell’s darkly structured play is how even the thought of infidelity can unravel into full-scale guilt if we let it, and that relationships tend innately to self-destruct unless we spend sufficient time on the difficult job of stopping them.
John Simm and Ian Hart start out as two sides of a coin, each as a husband attracted to the prospect of an affair until one yields and the other does not. As the first act unfolds, revealing that each was tempted by the other’s wife, the audience is granted more insight than the characters in ways that enhance the actors’ portrayal. Overlapping dialogue helps to emphasise the lives that, because they are not quite parallel, are destined to converge.
It is in the second act that, as we jump back in time and see more of the tales Simm and Hart have previously told their respective partners, the real emotional tone of the piece begins to emerge. With a sense of noir thriller that wilfully never resolves itself on stage, the lack of definite answers – indeed, of definite questions – ensures this is a production that will provoke discussion long after the final curtain.
The sparse staging by designer Ben Stones works in perfect conjunction with the cast, who each have to portray multiple characters among the rubble of self-destructive lives. Enhanced by Johanna Town’s subtle lighting cues and Lorna Heavey’s effective use of back projection in the climactic second act, it is Hart who stands out among his three fellow accomplished actors to produce a heart-stopping, heart-breaking piece of theatre.
Speaking in Tongues at Duke of York’s Theatre, review
29 Sep 2009
The Australian dramatist Andrew Bovell was responsible for one of the year’s finest new plays, When the Rain Stops Falling, which opened at the Almeida last spring.
It spanned eighty years and four generations, journeyed between England and Australia, and was both deeply affecting and occasionally a touch preposterous.
The same qualities of subtle yet powerful storytelling, deep emotion, and, yes, moments when this hugely gifted writer briefly tips into the pretentious, are present in this earlier play, first staged in Sydney in 1998 and subsequently turned into a film, Lantana, which earned Bovell a screenwriter of the year award in 2001.
The movie struck me as a slightly dodgy piece of Aussie film noir but the complex story works far better as a play. This is an absorbing work about trust and betrayal, love, desire and guilt – and you need to give it time, and full attention. More –>
Speaking in Tongues at the Duke of York’s
29 Sep 2009
Either the unnamed town in which Andrew Bovell sets this play is very small or there’s a strange erotic magnetism in its air.
Here’s John Simm’s aloof, wary Leon enjoying a one-night stand with Kerry Fox’s awkward, eager Jane at the very moment his wife Sonja is unsuccessfully launching into an equally surreptitious affair with her husband Pete, with each pair closeted in a similarly tacky hotel room and often burbling identical things. And the coincidences continue, right up to an ending in which three other characters turn out to be sexually but unknowingly linked.
Sound complex? Well, four actors play nine characters, sometimes speak in unison, and appear in scenes that cut into each other and don’t always follow the laws of time. But Bovell’s dramatic knots aren’t Gordian tangles or even over-intricate sheepshanks from Scouting for Boys. Thanks to his sharp writing and Toby Frow’s adroit handling of an able cast, the job of unravelling the plot proves manageable, rewarding and purposeful. More –>
Speaking in Tongues, Duke of York’s Theatre, London
1 Oct 2009
The Australian playwright Andrew Bovell scored a deserved hit with his kaleidoscopic ensemble play When the Rain Stops Falling at the Almeida earlier this year. Speaking in Tongues, written in 1996, and later adapted into the noirish movie Lantana, is about connections: the trickiness of making them with other people, in our own lives, and the failure to maintain them with the ones we ostensibly love.
All of which would be fine and dandy if Bovell and director Toby Frow didn’t fall down when it comes to the important matter of creating a connection with the audience, and making us care about the the nine characters they deploy in a sort of elaborate game of theatrical join-the-dots.
In the first act, two couples with shaky marriages – Leon and Sonja, Pete and Jane – are in a neon-lit bar, toying with committing adultery. Unbeknown to each other, the four of them swap partners, and end up perched on beds in anonymous hotel rooms, chattering nervously as they embark on one-night stands. But while Leon and Jane go on to have sex, Pete and Sonja back away from it, and flee into the night. More –>
A fine ensemble production that leaves you lost in thought
2 October 2009
Speaking In Tongues (Duke Of York’s Theatre)
Guilt is a complicated, isolating emotion, but it’s one Aussie writer Andrew Bovell knows his way around.
It’s a persistent theme in his writing, including his comparatively drab play aired earlier this year at the Almeida theatre, When The Rain Stops Falling.
But his 2000 play Speaking In Tongues was the prototype and basis of the fine Australian film Lantana.
Now it’s been given an engrossing revival with a cast of Lucy Cohu, Kerry Fox, Ian Hart and John Simm.
The story revolves round a web of unhappy marriages which become tangled after the disappearance of a woman late at night.
Like the film, Bovell’s play follows a clever, labyrinthine structure as overloaded expectations of relationships lead his characters astray.
In this way, tiny betrayals create circling moral dilemmas, but Bovell’s concern is to pity his characters, not to judge them. More –>
Speaking in Tongues
1 Oct 2009
Andrew Bovell’s 2000 play, “Speaking in Tongues,” a hit in his native Australia and the source of the film “Lantana,” feels adrift in this vaguely British-set, sparsely produced West End staging. Play is a complex narrative puzzle of trust and betrayal, in which characters’ stories overlap and inform each other. But the combination of Toby Frow’s stolid direction, the removal of the Australian setting, and some slippery accents lower audience engagement with Bovell’s intriguing text.
The play’s staging challenges begin with a tricky first scene simultaneously presenting two couples embarking on one-night stands, with overlapping, often simultaneous dialogue and action happening on two sides of the same hotel room. The plot thickens as we slowly realize the characters are two married couples unknowingly swapping partners — or not: Sonja (Lucy Cohu) eventually decides not to have sex with John (Ian Hart), even as John’s wife, Jane (Kerry Fox), is bedding down with Sonja’s husband, Leon (John Simm). More –>
Speaking in Tongues at Duke of York’s Theatre
2 October 2009
Someone wise – I believe it was the feminist writer Gloria Steinem – once observed pithily that the surest way to be alone is to get married. Verily, Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues at the Duke of York’s Theatre explores the chilling consequences of being together in solitude; lonely matrimony seducing people into varying extents of apathy and betrayal. It is thoughtful. It is thrilling. It is surprisingly good.
Bovell first wrote this as the 2001 Australian film Lantana, which starred Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey and Geoffrey Rush, and went on to sweep the Australian Film Institute awards. Now adapted for the stage, Speaking in Tongues features a formidable cast of four playing nine characters whose lives are all intertwined. The charismatic John Simm, of Life On Mars fame, is the ticket-moving headliner, playing a married detective who has a one night stand with a stranger. Still, the play is clearly written for an ensemble cast, with the other characters – played by Ian Hart, Lucy Cohu and Kerry Fox – saddled with a similar desires of duplicity.
The opening minutes reel you in immediately. Two couples – both married, but not to each other – ponder adultery in a seedy hotel. Despite being set apart, they perform the same dialogue, delivering quick-fire lines simultaneously and completing each other’s sentences. A tad gimmicky – but it neatly fleshes out the idea that both sides are faced with the same moral decision. The choices they make from here will take them down tangential and potentially destructive paths. More –>
Speaking in Tongues, Duke of York Theatre, London
FT – Financial Times
5 Oct 2009
Andrew Bovell’s 1996 play is a wonder of intricacy, interweaving the lives of nine characters (played by four actors) in a cat’s cradle of connections while actually dealing with the absence of connection, in particular of trust between one person and another. It begins a little showily, with two adulterous couples playing the same hotel-room scene in the same space and not only simultaneously but often in unison, then each returning home to their spouse who was in the “other” hotel room, followed by the two husbands striking up a conversation by chance in a bar, then the two wives . . . It is well assembled but it seems to set more store by form than content.
But towards the end of the first act, one of each couple gets to tell a prolonged anecdote: one about a man’s encounter with the former love of his life, the other about a woman who went missing. After the interval we see these stories join the web, touching each other and the initial four characters, and all the time the striving for understanding and trust, the striving in vain.
Ian Hart finds a common thread in his portrayals of the husband who didn’t go through with the adultery, the lovelorn man and the husband of the missing woman, this last most impressive in its unpleasantness; John Simm suggests complexities to the adulterous husband and simplicity (whether truthful or not) in the murder suspect; Lucy Cohu is admirably brittle as a relationship therapist; Kerry Fox contrasts the diffidence of her first act character with the articulacy of her second. The only real problem with Toby Frow’s production is that he elects to make it geographically unspecific rather than Australian in particular: the notion of being abandoned in the back of beyond is far more frightening in an Australian context.
It may be a hard sell for the West End, but nevertheless the man leaving the theatre behind me who grumbled “I would far rather have stayed home and watched Poirot” is grievously in error.
Speaking in Tongues inspires us to look inward
Hamstead & Highgate Express
15 October 2009
Andrew Bovell is renowned for his dark, intricate and intellectually challenging plays and Speaking In Tongues is certainly no exception.
The cast of four play nine characters, whose lives criss cross each other in the apparent random fashion that makes up life.
Initially, we are introduced to the characters who form the backbone of the play. Like something straight from the script of EastEnders, these unlikely four are made up of two couples – all separately out on the town and all with the same mission – to have a one-night stand.
It’s a simple case of wife swapping, as both couples end up with the other one’s partner. They all get as far as the bedroom and we get to see both encounters simultaneously on stage. This is an excellent piece of theatre.
However, if you’re a lazy theatre-goer (like me), then this scene will send your head into a spin.
Thankfully, director Toby Frow allows the audience to spend the first half getting to know each of these characters. More –>