Language of marriage and murder

By Dionne Christian

There's as much to hear as to see in dialogue-rich play about love

Luanne Gordon and Oliver Driver agreed to appear as soon as they read the script.
Luanne Gordon and Oliver Driver agreed to appear as soon as they read the script.

When was the last time you went to "hear" a play? More often, the talk is of going to watch a play; but then, we live in a world where people discuss "seeing" songs so sensory boundaries are blurred.

Silo Theatre artistic director Shane Bosher says the company's latest production, Speaking in Tongues, operates on different sensory levels and is a dialogue-rich piece in which the aural is just as important as the visual.

"This is the type of play which demands we hear it as much as we see it."

Written by Australian Andrew Bovell, who is in Auckland this weekend to speak at the Big Screen Symposium, Speaking in Tongues debuted in 1996 and has had a recent resurgence with productions in Britain, the United States and Australia. Before then, in 2001, Bovell adapted it into the award-winning film Lantana.

Speaking in Tongues flits between locations and times and is part psychological thriller, part relationship drama.

Bovell told TimeOut Sydney that, like all his plays, it's about relationships - more specifically the bond of marriage and the business of love.

The drama is a thorny proposition for any director and its quartet of actors because its structure inverts certain writing conventions.

In Act One, four actors play two married couples whose actions and speech sometimes mirror one another but, at other times, diverge to highlight juxtapositions in desires and beliefs. In the second act the same actors portray five different people.

Connection comes from its themes of betrayal and intimacy, murder and infidelity. Bosher says it's a script he often returns to because he is fascinated by its narrative form and the fresh thinking it brings to age-old desires and dilemmas.

"Because of its form, as a director, you have to have a clear vision for it. It requires extremely high levels of technical skill and craft from the cast and you can't cast it individually; you need a quartet of actors with the ability to contribute very different things but work in sync with one another."

Alison Bruce, Stephen Lovatt, Oliver Driver and Luanne Gordon comprise the cast.

Two and a half years ago, Driver "retired" from theatre to direct Shortland Street. Previously, he said if he was going to work fulltime in television, he would need time off to direct or appear in a play but his new job changed that.

"I reached a point where I needed to focus on one thing," he says.

"The opportunity came up to direct Shortland Street and learn about directing for television. I knew I needed to really focus and concentrate 100 per cent in order to learn how to do it.

"Now I feel more comfortable and confident in what I'm doing so I felt able to take a break when it was offered to me."

For Gordon, too, it's something of a long-awaited return to Silo. She last worked with the company on 2006's Plenty and has spent most of the past few years in film and television here and in Britain. She saw Lantana a decade ago but can't remember specifics except for a dark, moody tone.

Gordon and Driver accepted Bosher's invitation to appear in the play almost as soon as they began to read the script, partly because of the challenges it poses.

Gordon believes it's the most difficult play she has ever done. "You have to match the rhythm of another actor so you can't use your own natural rhythms or take a breath when you want to."

Driver agrees it takes a lot of thinking and skill. "I like to work on projects that really excite or scare me.

"The delivery of the lines has to be bang on or the whole thing can unravel. We're given a script and it's our job to delve into it, to find out what every fullstop and comma and line is there for because great writers, like Bovell, do everything for a reason.

"If you can't make a line work, it's not because of the line. It's your fault."


What: Speaking in Tongues
Where and when: Herald Theatre, August 15 to September 14

- NZ Herald

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