Speaking In Tongues

Published September 29, 2009

Playwright Andrew Bovell enmeshes the unpredictable and complex emotions of romantic relationships in an intricate, tightly-constructed piece of drama.

Using just four actors, who play nine fatally entangled characters between them, Bovell has managed to create a play that runs the gamut of relationships. Stale marriages, illicit passions, betrayal, loneliness, mistrust; all of these are displayed in an intelligent play which depicts the emotional damage that humans inflict upon each other and themselves in the eternal quest for love, lust and fulfilment.

Ben Stones’s low-lit set reflects the shadowy nature of the play and the emotions within it. It begins in a seedy motel where two men and two women are trying – or failing – to betray their spouses with a night of passion with a stranger. Bovell has his characters speaking in unison, which highlights both the comedy and the poignancy within the scene and also reveals the emotional similarities which have led these four people to this act of betrayal.

Later, we see how they are connected, and Act One deals with their attempts to salvage something from their damaged marriages. In doing so, they relate two separate, yet interrelated, stories about other people’s relationships, and it is these stories which are played out in Act Two, using the same cast.

Each of the four actors smoothly segues from one character to the next. As police detective Leon Zat, John Simm is a despondent, emotionally distant man who seems adrift in middle age; later he becomes Nick, the inadvertent suspect in the disappearance of a therapist which Leon is investigating. Lucy Cohu is both Leon’s wife, a sensual, confident woman who feels she deserves more than her husband’s infidelity, and therapist Valerie, whose own emotional demons are destroying her marriage. Kerry Fox plays an insecure woman who knows her marriage is over, and another who can’t bring herself to commit. Lastly, Ian Hart’s trio of roles comprises wronged husband Pete, obsessed ex-boyfriend Neil, and John, husband to Valerie, whose actions combine to create a poignant denouement made all the more tragic given the lack of mobile phones in the scene, which dates the play to nearly a decade ago. 

This denouement turns the play into something of a thriller, with atmospheric lighting, eerie music and video projections which help illustrate events that led to the disappearance of Valerie. It is a conclusion which shows the power of the human mind, with all its abilities and frailties, and its capacity to damage itself and others.

CB

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