Theatre review: Speaking in Tongues, Herald Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Actors portray strong emotional ties to multiplicity of characters

Stephen Lovatt and Alison Bruce in Speaking in Tongues, a play which raises a lot more questions than answers. Photo / Andrew Malmo
Stephen Lovatt and Alison Bruce in Speaking in Tongues, a play which raises a lot more questions than answers. Photo / Andrew Malmo

The complex structure places extraordinary demands on the actors, who rise to the challenge with finely judged performances. Silo Theatre's commitment to challenging theatre is displayed with panache in a superb production of the play that gave birth to the ground-breaking Australian film Lantana.

Playwright Andrew Bovell brilliantly deploys the intricate counterpoint and self-referencing variations found in Bach's fugues, and Shane Bosher's precise staging is finely attuned to the musical quality of the script.

The four actors each take on multiple roles so the action is constantly evolving into new configurations like an elaborate square dance, and the engagingly human drama spirals out of an interrogation of the ultimate betrayal of love that is represented by adultery.

Each of the characters wants to do the right thing but they are consumed with anxiety, shame, and feelings of guilt over unintentionally hurting others.

The wonderfully poetic, often humorous dialogue revealingly dissects the unhappy state of contemporary relationships but there are a lot more questions than answers and I found myself hoping the play might have more to say on why affluent societies are afflicted by such a profound sense of dissatisfaction.

The complex structure places extraordinary demands on the actors, who rise to the challenge with finely judged performances in which individual flourishes are sacrificed to enhance the total effect.

Oliver Driver compellingly embodies a tense, socially awkward bundle of emotions that is neatly matched by Stephen Lovatt's tough, self-contained cop who is haunted by personal demons.

A similar counterpoint is established with Luanne Gordon's plain-Jane coming up against Alison Bruce as a seemingly confident high-achiever. Their sharp verbal sparring masks a tangle of unresolved feelings and reaches a crescendo in an explosive duel between a patient and her therapist.

The themes of transparency and reflection are cleverly realised in the glass surfaces of John Verryt's set that is given striking visual impact through Sean Lynch's elegant lighting.

Theatre review
What:
Speaking in Tongues
Where: Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, until September 14

- NZ Herald

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