Thursday, 1 October 2009

Speaking my Language

All I knew about Speaking in Tongues when I booked our seats was that it had the amazing John Simm to complete a classy cast of Kerry Fox, Ian Hart and Lucy Cohu playing all nine characters.

A fascinating bit of writing, the play circles around the characters and events, playing with language and scenes and using simultaneous and overlapping speech to highlight links and gaps between people. It especially uses rhythm, with pauses and accents to an extent that this could almost have been performance poetry. Reviewers and the programme notes highlight the themes of trust and betrayal, but the main thing that struck me was the swirling circular nature of that rhythm, bringing us back round to the same scenes and words from a slightly different perspective.

The first half looks at two couples teetering on the edge of adultery, and then in the second half focuses on the events seen and mentioned earlier from the viewpoint of the other characters involved, resulting in a sort of complicated six degrees of separation thing, with the only repeated character being John Simm’s Leon. The plotting is so complex I was still sorting it out in my head on the way home, but despite that, there is no neat conclusion, which left a strangely unsettled feeling – something I love! Much better than an ending neatly tied up in a bow.

All of the actors managed their multiple roles very nicely. I saw Ian Hart just a few weeks ago in Three More Sleepless Nights at the Lyttleton; he was excellent in that as well, and this felt like a natural progression. Of course, John Simm is a huge draw and deservedly so. He had the two most diverse characters, and was just as mesmerising but different in both. Despite spending most of his career on screen, his stage energy is just amazing, doing that clever actorly thing of seeming to become the character, rather than ‘acting’.

Despite being a polished and gripping production and one of the most interesting plays I have seen this year, I think it still has scope for more, and I am keen to come back at the end to see how it has developed. I’ve already mentioned the importance of the rhythm and because of that, any tiny false steps and missed or delayed cues are glaringly obvious. I have a feeling that at the end of the run, the actors might have internalised the lines as if they are lyrics, so that they could speak along with it whilst cooking the tea and feeding the cat without missing a beat. If that happens, this will move up into another realm. And I really wouldn’t want to miss that.