Featured image: L-R: Simon Thomson, Elsa Cherlin, Dale William Morgan, Josie Waller

There’s much to interest the theatregoer in SPEAKING IN TONGUES by GradCo playing at the Chippen Street Theatre.  Not least of all is the award-winning script by Andrew Bovell.  SPEAKING IN TONGUES premiered at the SBW Stables in Griffin’s 1996 season and subsequently won the AWGIE for best play.  Adapted for the screen by Bovell, it became the multi AFI award winning hit film LANTANA.

 It begins in infidelity when, having met in a bar, two couples have decamped to somewhere seedy for a hook up. Peter with Sonja and Leon with Jane.   One couple will go through with it and one not but everyone returns to their spouse with consequences to ensue. Add to this a mystery when Jane sees her bloodied neighbour Nick throw away a woman’s shoe.  Also involved are a man Leon assaults, Neil, and his ex-girlfriend Sarah. There are 2 other characters who appear in the second act of the piece but all nine are played by 4 actors.

This is a very complicated play with fractures and patterns that shard and loop to challenge an audience’s intellect as well as our emotions.  GradCo’s production of SPEAKING IN TONGUES never fully fires up but there is enough slow burn in Director Jake Ludlow’s staging and storytelling to maintain interest and stoke the flames of the mystery.

Ludlow avoids excessive movement when there is story to be told, such as the chase description scene in Act 2 where the tension is build through a text which is allowed to shine through.  He has also conceptualised the production well to accommodate travel lengths on the wide of the stage and the need for scene changes in full view.  However, there is a lack of energy in the production towards the end of the show when the disparate story lines must necessarily come together.

There is considerable ensemble energy, though, from the cast during the fragmented duality of the early scenes.  These are handled with significant technical skill and really keep the audience engaged, especially in the topsy turvy recriminatory section.  It is a young cast for such a middle-aged story but they bring a maturity to their characters in the main.

Simon Thomson gives a good impression of ego and arrogance in Leon but doesn’t quite bring it up to cop level.  His work in the scene with Sonja clearing up around the house is very much on point to show the distance and history between them.  He has a good scene partner here in Elsa Cherlin as Sonja who gives her character a pervasive discontent.   Thomson also does a great job as Nick and really brings out the repercussive fear of accusation and underlying insecurity of the character.  In contrast, Cherlin plays Valerie with a cool rationality and stillness that provides a strong contrast with Josie Waller’s well calibrated abrasiveness as Sarah.

Waller’s performance as Sarah during the reading of the letters is especially good.  Here Sarah’s sadness seeps into her motionlessness and silence.  As Jane, Waller gives us a woman who is impassioned and lost, most evidently in the shoe scene where there is quite a vulnerability expressed.   Dale William Morgan’s performance has a strong interiority and sense of dynamic listening which serves him well in the portrayal of Neil but in the other characters seems too passive and can affect his interpretation adversely.  There is a strong bewilderment in Neil and that carries well..

The lighting (Designer: Corey Potter) is simple, analogue and somewhat handicapped by the closeness of the front row of seating, the back of their heads is far too well lit.  But the colours are effectively chosen and used and the cues well operated.  The audio (original music by Bass Hathaway) extends the complexity of the piece, expands the emotional intent and adds to the mysterious elements.  The underscore below the cliff sequence was very evocative.

A committed cast and a character-rich mystery serve to make this show an interesting few hours of theatre but you will need to be quick.  SPEAKING IN TONGUES from GradCo.Studio [Facebook] only has a short time left in its run at Chippen Street Theatre, Chippendale.