Bangalow Theatre Company's Speaking In Toungues Production

‘Speaking in Tongues’ // Bangalow Theatre Company

BTC recently staged Andrew Bovell’s ‘Speaking in Tongues’, a play about tangled intimacy, trust, and fear.

The majestic Bangalow A&I Hall was disorienting, cloaked in black, its stage disused, its famous pressed metal walls concealed behind dense drapes. The effect is both intimate and sinister. The audience perched in elevated rows on either side of a centred swath of bare floorboards, where we saw, up close, the glint of an eye, the seductive linger of fingers, a lick of a lip, the silhouette of a stiletto. It was a sensual world we gazed upon. Not quite within, and yet, in some way we were all part of the microcosm of desire and discontent and desperation that plays out within arm’s reach. Voyeuristic and entranced.

In Act I, all eyes were on two dissatisfied couples who attempt to find solace in the embrace of another. A synchronous Shakespearean plot device had them in hotels at the same time on the same night with the same thing on their minds. One couple followed through, one did not. Who knows what drives these decisions? That Sarah and Jane share identical hairstyles does not go unnoticed. We often want same-same, but different. Just for a change. The mind wanders to the what-ifs of a night of abandon, while the dialogue, a multi-track recording, overlapped with parallel but ever so slightly askew variations on a theme. The lines resonant, momentarily in sync and then discordant.

Sarah Allely, as the silky and vulnerable Jane, showed that temptation is easy. She owned the promenade stage, a shadowy catwalk where both the potent and pedestrian parts of middled-aged romance play out. Mick Webb presented a solid, unwavering presence as Jane’s husband – the conflicted Pete – whose love interest, Sonya (Golden Palm Actress of the Year, Kate Foster) is the partner of Jane’s all-too-willing one-night conquest Leon (Luke Prendergast).

Bovell’s plotting has a cat and mouse-like feel, planting people together along the narrative timeline where realisations, whether reassuring or hurtful, strategically unfurl. A lean, relatable cast, under the incisive direction of Anouska Gammon, are naturals that capture the sense that this could be any of us, foibles, frailties, and all.

The set was sparse: two minimalist day beds said it all. Eyes pivoted from one couple to the other, and we furtively scanned the audience, too, for faces we know – or perhaps would like to know. The actors negotiated the space both seductively and with a degree of self-consciousness, as the mood required in this dance of deception. A cut crystal whiskey decanter was a timeless but contemporary touch to the set suggesting the agelessness of the question of fidelity, and alcohol’s role in lubricating such liaisons.

Act II focused on Valerie (Belle Power) stranded and isolated, the pinnacle of vulnerability. The set, even darker now, is just an LED-lit folding screen that extends and reshapes to create multiple spaces for Valerie to unravel. In a phonebooth, her anxiety escalates as the hours tick by, her calls unheard. Her husband John (Dane Bodley) is not coming to save her. In the gloom, the ever-increasing spectre of gendered violence seeps. We feel it again when Joel Cooper delivers the hapless Neil’s aching – bordering on unsettling – recount of his deep past passion for Sarah (Tanya Hanby). Meanwhile, Sarah, in another scene, vaguely acknowledges Neil as a faintly pencilled footnote in her romantic history. This combination of dismissiveness and infatuation have proven time and again provoke the most socially reprehensible sides of an intimate partner.

In Act III, we hear Nick recount the previous evening’s events that end suspiciously with him discarding a woman’s shoe into a vacant block. Guilty or not, his lack of transparency when confronted by neighbour Jane, is a symptom of a bigger problem. Men being wrongly accused. Men doing the wrong thing. But more poignantly, as I watch this enthralling production on the night of the Bondi Westfield massacre – women being easy targets for men’s impotent rage.

In the end, fear, particularly Valerie’s, whether real or imagined, hangs in the room like so many suspended shoes that tally relationship wrong turns, anger, panic – and lives taken at the hands of another.

‘Speaking in Tongues’ performed until April 13th at A&I Hall. For more information visit the Bangalow Theatre Company website.

Photo by Kate Holmes Photography

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