A bold and worthwhile dramatic experience.
Bovell’s text is a formally intricate piece of writing that attempts to be something larger than the sum of its component parts through its fugue-like structure. The idea is that the isolated units of dialogue combine to paint deep portraits of Leon, Sonja, Pete and Jane while exposing a more sinister set of events running parallel to the domestic passages. This approach is partially successful. We certainly come to understand the characters in considerable depth, and there are impressive moments of technical control in the writing. The two opening sequences are particularly effective; the staging of two conversations simultaneously is handled in such a way that each exchange serves to bolster the clarity and strength of the other. However, the text is not always so well crafted. Sometimes the technicality feels clinical rather than dextrous and the dramatic denouement during the ending is abrupt and rushed. The closing scene is much more interesting for what it says about Pete and Jane’s relationship than for what it offers the story, but unfortunately it is the narrative that is given the focus. This is most likely in order to persuade audience members to stay for The Truths, the second half of this play (although still a discrete drama in its own right) which is performed immediately after The Lies.
The inverted theatre-in-the-round set-up is the true draw to the show. On a mechanical level it works flawlessly, keeping us engaged throughout with thoughtful blocking. Simply put, it is exciting to experience theatre in such a mobile setting. Occasionally we are left wondering whether the staging is innovative or merely a gimmick, but on the whole it pretty much justifies itself through its complementing of the text’s themes and the sheer enjoyment it affords the audience. This is due in no small part to the performances of Phil Aizlewood, Kate Austen, Ben Elder and Georgina Periam who are excellent as the four lovers, deftly cutting from passage to passage while moving through the tight space.
Slick and quick, Speaking in Tongues: The Lies may not be the most stimulating piece of theatre but it is nonetheless a bold and worthwhile dramatic experience.