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Ballarat National Theatre

Subtlety, humour and compassion are bought to the stage in Ballarat National Theatre’s production of Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues, a richly entertaining modern classic.

Four actors playing nine characters is part of the Speaking in Tongues challenge and charm, and it allows the audience to realise the play’s beauty, symmetry and double meanings. The play is essentially three stories in one and embraces different theatrical conventions, entwined together to bring each story to life.

Comprising three parts, the play begins with two married couples (Pete and Jane, and Leon and Sonja) embarking on one-night stands: Pete with Sonja, and Leon with Jane. Although Leon and Jane carry through with the infidelity where Pete and Sonja don’t, both couples echo each other’s dialogue. When the characters are reunited with their spouses, Jane has an unnerving story to tell about seeing a bloodied neighbour hurling a woman’s shoe into a rubbish dump. The ramifications of this are explored in the next part, although this part features four new characters: Sarah, Valerie (Sarah’s therapist), Neil (Sarah’s ex-boyfriend) and Nick (Jane and Pete’s neighbour). In the final part, when the narrative mystery is resolved, Leon, Sarah and Valerie return, and are joined by John (Valerie’s husband).

The Speaking in Tongues is a masterwork in the way it interweaves three stories to form a complex narrative and is especially innovative in its intercut and overlap of dialogue. Speaking in Tongues was later developed into the iconic Australian film, Lantana which picked up 7 Australian Film Industry awards in 2001 and starred Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Armstrong, Geoffrey Rush and Vince Colosimo. Speaking in Tongues has been performed across the globe including productions on London’s famed West End and New York’s Broadway stages.