Speaking in tongues

Every now and then it happens. Like shooting stars, but rarer. Illuminating like chain lightning. Like finding love and knowing how to declare it, and keep it. And when it happens, you have no choice but to surrender to the beauty and the cruelty, the devastation of seeing a truly great work of art and knowing that you feel differently now. You are different, now. Forever.

Going to the theatre, as much as I do, can be difficult. The wear and tear on your heart can be difficult. For us foyer-dwellers we are forever optimistic that we will have those experiences which make the treasure hunt for great art, for great theatre, worthwhile.There’s a lot of kissing frogs in play going. There’s a lot of dates that just don’t work out. But I try to find the merit, provide context and offer encouragement to all the makers of this very demanding art form in the hope that somehow, somewhere, someday it translates into one of the great plays. And Speaking in Tongues is such a play. And Sam Strong’s production is such a production.

I was seventeen and on the verge of moving to Sydney when the first production of Andrew Bovell’s play was produced in Sydney. That was fifteen years ago. Had i seen that play as a girl, I’m sure I would have been dazzled by the craft, but not fully felt the weight of its themes of trust, love, denial, connection, regret or betrayal. Since that time, Speaking in Tongues has been re-imagined and re-created as multi-award winning film Lantana and now heads Sam Strong’s first season as the Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre Company. Embracing the history of Australia’s much loved theatre which has always been a home for new Australian work -Strong has honoured the legacy of the developing Australian canon and has stepped forward with an incredible production.

This is not a great production because it is Australian. It is a great production, an incredible piece of writing AND it’s Australian.

Bovell’s script is timeless, a classic love story that speaks beyond time, beyond generations, beyond landscape – we are swept up in universality of the play – the strong and fragile characters – they who have it all and yet have nothing. Caroline Craig, Chris Stollery, Andy Rodoreda and Lucy Bell perform as several interlinked and interlinking couples who are mixed in up in the delight and devastation of having an affair. As chance and coincidence cycle and collide, they uncover the simple motivations, dreams, yearnings, numbness which drive them inexorably into their destinies. In an unfolding temporal/emotional origami, Bovell is the master of concurrent and cyclical writing – where we see the merry-go-round is made up of beautiful horses, that are chipped and worn and not as comfortable as we first dreamed. We sit and experience the structural perfection, as the image of the shoes is realised.

This production, these performances are incredible. Spontaneous, brutally honest, immediate. Intense. Bell, Craig, Stollery and Rodoreda shift and change, transmogrify and remain solid and truthful. Craig sparkles and glows under Danny Pettingil’s design, we watch as Bell bends and breaks and crystalizes between scenes. We are mesmerized by Rodoreda’s clear-cut transformations for his simple earnest yearning for Sarah, his casual nervousness and we love him for it. Stollery stands firm and focussed, his voice deep and smooth and comforting. It is pure perfection watching them negotiate the terrain of this story – not as actors, not as “characters” but as people.

Strongs direction is crisp and yet suitably languid. Simply executed – this director knows how to trust the writer, knows how to serve the story and set up the actors for their moments of surprise. Strong never gets in the way of the script. We can see it unfolding, we can see the characters unravelling and we roll on, watching as the inevitable crash ending leaves us stunned and silent.

What is there left for me to say? Speaking in Tongues: see it. It is perfect.
Now I’ll let REM fill in the rest for me…

“Every whisper, of every waking hour I’m choosing my confessions, Trying to keep an eye on you, Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool. Oh no, I’ve said too much”
REM Losing My Religion