When tongues start wagging

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“Speaking in Tongues”
By Andrew Bovell, directed by Ross McGregor for Canberra Repertory, at Theatre 3 until May 19.
Reviewed by Helen Musa

THIS is a deceptively simple play and one that becomes increasingly subtle and absorbing as the different pieces in a larger puzzle are placed together.

Superficially, the plot revolves around two ordinary married couples whose lives intersect on a single, unpleasant day involving an unsuccessful try at infidelity, coincidentally with each other’s partners.

The dialogue overlaps brilliantly as the couples speak in parallel, exploring questions of betrayal, growing old and the failure of self-confidence.

Into the mix, Jane (Lainie Hart) drops a story about a strange late-night incident in her neighbourhood to her husband Pete (Duncan Ley). Somehow it seems inevitable that the two wives, Jane and Sonja, (Helen MacFarlane) should cross paths and that Sonja’s policeman husband Leon (Rob de Fries) should be on the case of the incident. These four strong performances occupy most of Act I.

If you’ve seen the film “Lantana”, developed from “Speaking in Tongues”, you’ll be familiar with part of the story, but the structure of the film is different from this stage version, where the focus is more evenly spread across the nine characters, all of whom director Ross McGregor allows to have their moment.

In Act II, Bovell’s focus expands to bring in other characters already hinted at, such as the rejected lover Neil (Raul Craemer) and the neurotic psychologist Valerie (Bridgette Black), until the play’s larger canvas is unveiled.

Visually the production is stunning, with a sculptural set by Wayne Shepherd suggesting a bamboo forest in perpetual motion. A haunting musical score by Canberra composer Jonathon McFeat backs the action effectively.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor


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