Review of SPEAKING IN TONGUES at the Duke of York’s Theatre

Australian playwright Andrew Bovell first wrote Speaking in Tongues as a play. He then adapted it as a successful screenplay (called Lantana) and now returns to it in its original form. The result is a theatrically exciting fourhander, which, while not without some unsubtle contrivances and hard-tos wallow coincidences, tells us a great deal about marriage, trust, infidelity, and the terrible emotional pain couples are capable of inflicting on one another.

And though the play says nothing we haven’t heard before, the manner chosen by Bovell to get his familiar message across is highly charged and strikingly original.

True, the opening scene in which two couples, unaware of each others’ presence, share the same sleazy hotel bedroom, is a gimmick Alan Ayckbourn used to great comic effect in his play How the Other Half Loves.

Overlapping dialogue and lines spoken in unison give the first ten minutes of the text a rhythmic, choreographed quality that almost outstays its welcome. But as soon as the verbal dust settles and we begin to get a handle on the quartet of adulterers in our midst, the play casts a mesmeric spell as seemingly commonplace emotions become supercharged with importance and significance.

Using the six-degrees-of-separation theory, Bovell ingeniously links the nine characters in the play (performed by four actors) and, despite some loose ends, niftily binds together its two compelling acts. The result is a riveting entertainment, beautifully performed by John Simm, Ian Hart, Lucy Cohu and Kerry Fox.

Apart from an extended (and frankly tedious) sequence in which the characters put the narrative on hold to describe their recurring dreams – Speaking in Tongues is a most welcome addition to the West End.

It’s expertly directed by Toby Frow, and the atmospheric sets and lighting are by Ben Stones and Johanna Town.

One small point: it’s never stated where, exactly, the play is set. The accents are English, though it feels more like Australia. I just mention it.

CLIVE HIRSCHHORN, courtesy of This Is London magazine.

Save £11 on tickets to see Speaking in Tongues at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London