I wasn't really sure if I'd like Speaking in Tongues; the publicity, reviews and even the programme notes may rave about it but at the same time make the play sound very convoluted and pretentious. Having now seen it I wouldn't say that's the case, but it's hard to describe without it coming across that way. Four actors (John Simm, Ian Hart, Lucy Cohu and Kerry Fox) play nine characters between them, and in the first act we have two couples, both cheating with each other's partners. Andrew Bovell's play and Toby Frow's production start with a bang, as a single hotel room serves as the location for both liaisons, the four actors all on stage at once, playing both scenes simultaneously and often overlapping dialogue. It starts things off with lots of energy and impressive performances; then we move on to see the consequences of these infidelities.
One of the first act's characters, Leon (Simm) is a policeman, and in the second half he investigates a woman's disappearance - Simm also plays the prime suspect. The various characters' lives interweave through a series of coincidences, and all the storylines deal in some way, as the title suggests, with problems in communication, principally but not exclusively between men and women. It's a show I went to see for the cast and they don't disappoint, while director Toby Frow keeps the action taut, and Ben Stones' set is a moody but versatile combination of black brick, white blinds and low-key video projections. The show's main problem is that it began life as two separate one-act plays, written a couple of years apart then re-written as a single play by Bovell; thematically it works, in terms of story it's also largely successful, but the end of the first act when the theme of the missing woman is introduced feels like a very abrupt gear shift which takes you out of the action quite a bit.
Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell is booking until the 12th of December at the Duke of York's Theatre.