Speaking With Tongues, Cockpit Theatre – Review
Review by Michael Davis
Inverting the idea of theatre-in-the-round, pioneering theatre company Doughnut Productions has hit upon the idea of having the audience in the centre of the performance space on swivel chairs, while the action takes place on the periphery of all four walls and exits. Directed by Kathleen Douglas, Doughnut’s latest production Speaking With Tongues focuses on the subject of fidelity within two couples and how their respective stories dovetail into ‘the bigger picture’.
The play begins with Jane and Leon (Georgina Periam and Phil Aizlewood) and Sonya and Pete (Kate Austen and Andrew Seddon) initally meeting during a night out. At first the dialogue for each couple is almost identical, but as time progresses their tales diverge, leaving some characters ‘closing the deal’ while others stop short their clandestine rendez-vous.
The play shifts up a gear afterwards as the infidelities come to light. Playwright Andrew Bovell captures the distinct mannerisms that women have when they’re talking with each other (as well as the men), though both hide their deepest feelings initially with superficial banter. The tension in these scenes is delicously palpable, as each person initially doesn’t realise that the other is the wounded party or the person their spouse had an affair with.
After the interval, the play has the same actors playing very different characters and at first it seems to be a different storyline, one that involves a missing neighbour and a shoe. However it soon becomes apparent that the second half of Speaking With Tongues squares the circle, as things previously mentioned in passing take on greater significance and the new characters clarify details that weren’t elaborated on.
The way the play divulges details can be likened to a mystery or detective story – either enlightening or obfuscating, but always imparting some degree of emotional truth. The anecdotes that are told by the respective characters are anything but padding, imparting a richness to the characters’ backstories.
With the actors so close to the audience, there’s no room for them to hide from the collective scrutiny, but they pull it off admirably. Each character played is distinct, but rooted in truthfulness.
Ultimately Speaking With Tongues is about trust (or the absence of it). Even with supposedly the most intimate relationships, it can be a scarce commodity and a dealbreaker.
As for use of swivel chairs and reverse theatre-in-the-round to tell this story, I can assure you that this technique is no gimmick, as it enables the audience to be completely immersed in the storytelling. By the end of the play you realise how emotionally involved you were throughout – exhausted, but in a good way. Certainly worth making the effort to see if the play is showing again in your neck of the woods.
© Michael Davis 2016
Speaking With Tongues ran at The Cockpit Theatre, London on 2-3 April 2016.
Review of Speaking in Tongues at The Cockpit Theatre
Review by Greg Wetherall
The sleight of hand that ushers an audience to follow one strand of narrative whilst masking the full picture is a timeless dramatic device. Chopping up the order and sequence is another. The novel and the new here is the fact that, alongside the aforementioned, the audience is placed centre stage – on swivel chairs, no less – with the action enveloping them.
This approach is the brainchild of Doughnut Productions and it is undeniably an enticing proposition. For their latest instalment, they have opted to focus on Australian playwright Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues; his intricately woven tale of love, deceit, sex and death.
Matters open with a confusing collage of sound and action, as two couples pace back and forth speaking identical dialogue. In each direction, there is a married partner seeking to cheat on their spouse through a one night stand. As an opening, it is an incoherent jumble and a sure misfire. It is one that has been present in other versions and remains a kink in need of ironing here.
For the first half, further episodic pieces present. Two women meet at a bar; their impromptu chatter elicits a depressing realisation that the lonely, neglected wife and this single woman are both involved with the same man. Also, a tale is regaled of a man disappearing by the beach, and a woman who witnesses a local neighbour with cuts on his face and a woman’s shoe in his possession. She is concerned over his involvement with a reported missing woman.
This might all sound like a mishmash of unrelated incidents and it is true to say that the audience faces a bitter struggle to get a hold of the story up until the interval. For the second half, however, there is a firmer grasp on convention. The slow burn pays off as the revelations are drip-fed with a satisfying frequency.
The performances are versatile and this small cast of four must handle multiple characters. They pull this off effortlessly and to single out any one, or even two, would be unfair to the troupe as a whole. In respect of the staging, the unusual set-up comes at the expense of a lavish presentation. There is not a lot to work with at the fringes of the theatre space, but there is an undeniable and unavoidable immersive element to this approach that is rewarding. It is to be noted that there is also a projection screen utilised that provides accompaniment for some passages, with wordless clips emphasising the stories being told by the characters.
Whilst it would be a stretch to label this work as an out and out success, it is a complementary meeting of subject matter, material and direction. Caps must be doffed to director Kathleen Douglas for being bold and forthright with a subject that deserves no less. Her talents have been well served by a consummate cast.
Finally, as far as Speaking in Tongues is concerned, as much of an oxymoron as it may be, Bovell highlights that whilst we regard trust as an essential glue in the relationships we form, the reality is also that it is an intangible construct that might well be a figment of our imagination. After all, do we ever really know another soul apart from our own? That’s ample food for thought and one to ponder as you head towards the exit.
The Right Path
Review by Terry Eastham
Every day we make choices, each of which change the future for not only us but everyone we interact with. Often these are little things, like what to have for lunch, which barely cause a ripple in the space time continuum. However, there are also major decisions in life that will affect everything. What would be great would be if we could know the outcome of the various options and thus make a fully informed choice knowing every nuance of our decision in advance. Doughnut Productions explore this theory in their new production “The Right Path” at the 3 Mills Film Studio
Jo (Georgina Periam) has just hit thirty – considered by many to be one of the most important milestones in life – and has been celebrating with her partner Mark (Neil Patrick) and after the party, they sit and talk about their lives. We get a glimpse of how they met at Jo’s sister’s wedding where Mark was a singer and Jo a reluctant bridesmaid. At that time, Jo in particular had lots of plans and ideas about what she wanted to do before she got old (ie 30). But five years on from that meeting, Jo and Mark have settled. Mark has given up writing music and now works for the council as a pillar of society – except when being led astray by his brother Paul (Charlie Tantam) – while Jo has put her dream of being an artist on hold and now works with Marie (Elena Voce) in a pottery cafe. Jo is dissatisfied and has secretly applied for an arts based job in Paris. When she is offered the job and Mark finds out the two of them have a row and realise that this is potentially a major turning point in their lives together. Of the various options open to them, they each write their preferred choice on a piece of paper and then decide what to do based on this.
Director Eloise Lally and Doughnut Productions have a gem of a show with “The Right Path”. Set over four separate stages with the audience on swivel chairs in the middle, the show moves along really well and at one point there is action occurring on two stages at the same time. The story itself is really strong as well, with the various options being played out, each starting from the moment when Jo and mark hand over their piece of paper to the other and then running through to their respective conclusions – a really marvelous story telling idea that I totally loved. Turning to the actors, I thought Georgina and Neil were excellent in their respective roles of Jo and Mark. There was a real feeling of chemistry between the two of them from the start and their fine acting skills were really tested as they enacted the various possible lives the two characters may have had. I also think that Neil should get a special round of applause for publicly wearing Muppet boxer shorts. Elena and Charlie were great in their small, but absolutely vital, supporting roles though I did think that Charlie’s Paul was not quite as brash and outgoing as the character seemed to be written.
Overall, I thought “The Right Path” was a really good play in every respect. The use of the four stages with the audience in the middle, which I initially thought would just be a gimmick, turned out to work really well given a nice sense of place to the various scenes. The story itself was extremely well written with the first act really setting up the characters and giving the audience a chance to get to know and care about the lives of Jo and Mark. The second act then concentrated on the outcome of the various options but in a non judgemental way so that the audience could make their own minds up as to which path they would have wanted Jo and Mark to take. A lovely piece of writing by Andrew Cooper and Kate Austen all the way through which was delivered by two very fine actors. “The Right Path” is a lovely play and provided both myself and my companion – who apparently can’t recognise ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ – when he hears it with a great afternoon’s entertainment.