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How much suspicion can a relationship take?

“Speaking in Tongues” cast members, from left, Arran McKenna, Steph Roberts, Jess Waterhouse and Robbie Haltiner. Photo: Eva Schroeder

IT’S an open question as to whether theatre director Cate Clelland would’ve been helped if she’d seen the film “Lantana” before embarking on directing Andrew Bovell’s play “Speaking in Tongues”, on which the movie was based.

As it is, she hasn’t, but she might do, even though she suspects “it probably won’t make much difference”.

She’s heard that the film, starring Anthony LaPaglia and Kerry Armstrong, is more chronological and more naturalistic, with the narrative a bit clearer in the film, but then again the play, she says, is deliberately a puzzle.

In it, a woman disappears, but we never find out what happened to her, so it’s not a detective story and the nine different characters are played by four actors.

Interconnected by infidelity, in the first part, two couples accidentally swap partners on one-night stands, one of which is a bit more serious than the other. 

We learn that a woman has gone missing and that a neighbour has been seen throwing a high-heeled shoe into a tip, making him the prime suspect – “Lantana” fans will remember that bit.

The second part of the play involves more characters who are interconnected with those in the first and then at the end of the play the mystery is solved – sort of.

Clelland and her team have been having a mighty time of it working out what’s going on and when, as the stage play shifts between characters and relationships in a series of multiple narratives.

Arran McKenna plays Leon, one of two couples, and Nick. Steph Roberts plays Sonja and Sarah, Robbie Haltiner plays Pete, Neil and John with Jess Waterhouse as Jane and Valerie. There’s also a lone policeman. Each person’s story gets mixed up with others and John becomes a person of suspicion because he’s seen with mud and blood, although that’s explained.

As they say in showbiz, you’ll just have to be there to see what it’s about.

Clelland, one of Canberra’s most seasoned directors, is staging the play for Free Rain Theatre and has been busy finding the heart and humanity in what is essentially a piece about relationships.

As well, Bovell’s play poses moral and philosophical questions that would have challenged the mind of St Paul, such as whether, if you intend to cheat, is that the same as actually doing it?

“Because of this complexity, the whole thing has been very collaborative,” she says. 

“The last few plays I’ve directed have had around about 17 people in them, so it’s lovely to work with just four people – a bit of a joy for me.”

The play, she explains, is really a series of themes and variations, perhaps like a fugue in music.

Part I, she says, is not actually about relationships but more just a couple of stories, but in Part II it becomes more complex and in Part III one of the characters from Part I comes back. Everybody becomes part of someone else’s story and the doubling makes it all the more complicated.

But Clelland is working with a top cast of Canberra actors who bring it to life.

In the end, she says, “Speaking in Tongues” is about love and loss, with parallels all over the place and a mystery at the centre.

“It’s not terribly pessimistic,” Clelland says. “But you could hardly say it’s a happy ending, even though one couple stays together.”

The play, she says, is very clever, full of storytelling and speeches, which would make good audition monologues, so it’s a gift to actors who like to flex their artistic muscles.

The cast input extends to the minimalist set, which they are “kind of building as they go… we can’t do a realistic set because of all of the time-shifts so we’re building it out of boxes that seem to work very well.”

In the end, she says, the play asks what is a happy relationship and how much suspicion can it take?

“Speaking in Tongues,” ACT Hub, Kingston, October 25-November 4.

 

 

 

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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