My second theatrical excursion, with Owen, Sharon and Eamonn, was to see the well-reviewed play SPEAKING IN TONGUES at the Duke of Yorks Theatre. I suspect the critics must have had a particularly bad stretch of plays before they saw this one. On reflection it wasn't bad... just not good.I must declare an interest before this - I have yet to enjoy an Australian play. Admittedly I haven't seen that many but the ones I have seen seem - lightweight. Obvious. First-draftish.
The play started interestingly enough - two couples are meeting in two anonymous hotel rooms for extra-martial shags. We watch their embarrassed, fumbling attempts at small talk, each wondering who makes the first move. One couple finally do the deed... the other couple can't bring themselves to. We then follow the couples back and with Charity's "fickle finger of fate" - or a tricky playwright - the cheating man is married to the non-cheating woman and vice-versa. The scene ends where non-cheating wife and non-cheating husband slap their cheating spouses.
Now these two scenes are played on the same set by the actors at the same time with characters saying the same lines for most of the time. A clever theatrical device... if used sparingly. Here, it just draws attention to itself so I wasn't so much following the play, more waiting for one of the actors to miss their cue.
We then get roughly the same scene played twice as the two men, then the two women, meet by chance in a bar and realize who each other is.
The first act ends with the cheating husband, a police detective, telling his wife about a lingering dream he had featuring him scaring another man and the cheating wife telling her husband about her witnessing their next door neighbour furtively disposing of a woman's shoe while appearing in a jittery, scratched state.Act Two then spins the dramatic bottle and our quartet of actors are now playing new characters. A man writes to an ex-girlfriend telling her how he can't forget her - the ex-girlfriend has an uncomfortable session with her analyst about the letters while the analyst is more keen on the woman's latest relationship - the analyst is stranded on a dark road miles from anywhere and leaves increasingly panicked messages on the home answerphone for her absent husband - a man tells an unseen interrogator about how he gave a woman a lift on a dark road who then fled his car in a panic leaving her shoe which he then tried to dispose of until interrupted by his neighbour. See where this is going?
Sadly yes I could see where it was going.
Even more so when the final scene had the Detective from the first act interviewing the guarded husband of the missing woman who finally admits that the reason he was not home for her calls was because he was seeing his mistress.
And of course... the play ends with the ex-girlfriend who was in analysis with the missing woman getting a call from her lover.... guess who?
As I said as we left, does writer Andrew Bovell not realize that we might have actually seen LA RONDE?
The play was the basis for the well-received Australian film LANTANA and I can well understand how the plot contrivances would work better in a film setting. A seemingly random cross-section of people coming into contact with each other by chance reminded me of the film SHORT CUTS but on stage SPEAKING IN TONGUES eventually showed a writer striving for a universality which ended up being just groaningly obvious.
I will admit to never being bored while watching Toby Frow's production, just dulled into submission by Bovell's join-the-dots plotting. Although none of the actors are particular favorites of mine, they all invested the play with more commitment than I think it deserved.
John Simm showed a wry humour as the Detective and an angry defiance as the man accused by his neighbour of wrong-doing. Ian Hart met himself going off coming on as he played three roles - the hapless husband thinking better of having an affair, the sad ex-lover and the vanished woman's husband wrestling with guilt.
Hart launched himself at an audience member recently who he said was talking during his performance. He was probably explaining to his friend which one Hart was playing!
Actually the scenes between Simm and Hart were the best in the production, all played with a teasing tension that as said, gave the play a merit it hardly deserved.
Lucy Cohu made the most of the opposing characters she played - a jaundiced, tempted wife and the emotionally fraught analyst. Kerry Fox fared less well as the gauche, suspicious wife and the defensive patient.
And to quote Mrs. Patrick Campbell, when a rain effect in a play she was appearing in started pouring down on her rather than outside the set's windows, "And it cost the earth!"