125: Speaking in Tongues

24 Jul

Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is the stage play that was the precursor to his famous film Lantana. If, like me, you saw Lantana before you saw or read Speaking in Tongues, you’re still in for a treat.

book and geranium

This is a really good example of writing for the medium of the production. While the play and the film have the same storyline – complete with twists, turns, flashbacks and surprises – they present it in very different ways.

Speaking in Tongues begins with two couples inadvertently partner swapping when each of the individuals heads out for a one-night stand. This first scene is the most complex to read as it takes place in two different hotel rooms with the couples’ dialogue interweaving and overlapping. (The / in the following denotes moments where the remainder of the speech overlaps the next character’s line of dialogue.)

LEON: I’ve got this pain in / my chest.
PETE: My chest is pounding.
SONJA/JANE: Are you all right?
PETE/LEON: Yes.
SONJA/JANE: Are you sure?
PETE: I said / I’m all right.
LEON: I’m all right.

The couples mirror each other in action and dialogue until the moment when one pair decides they can’t go through with it while the other pair has sex. When they get home the two who didn’t go through with the infidelity confess how close they came to their spouses, who pretend innocence but get caught out. Couples break up, accidentally meet the “other man or woman” and strange stories are told involving shoes. These might seem quite random or unrelated but all is revealed in the second act. (Bovell is singularly good at the big reveal. Many of his plays have mysteries or conundrums that are masterfully explained towards the end.)

Bovell is explicit in his stage directions that the same four actors play all the parts in the play. (The film of course has a much larger cast.) In the second half we meet a therapist, her client, her husband, a depressed man and someone’s neighbour. They are all somehow connected to each other and to the couples we met in the first half.

I love the way Bovell weaves his stories and thoroughly enjoy the intricacies of his craft. If you’re in Brisbane and you’d like to experience Speaking in Tongues for yourself, it’s on at Metro Arts until 6 August, 2011. Or you can watch the trailer for Lantana below.

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