Speaking in Tongues

WILL KAUFHOLD has a great time at a show too clever by half.

Corpus Speaking in Tongues Will Kaufhold

Corpus Playroom, 7 PM, February 11th-15th, £6/5

Brutally cynical, technically intricate, and all too aware of its own cleverness, Speaking in Tongues is disturbingly appropriate to Cambridge.

This comparison flatters Cambridge: the Corpus rendition of Andrew Bovell’s play was both exquisite and delightfully perplexing. In it, four actors play a menagerie of nine dysfunctional and highly diverse characters. A pessimistic view of human nature is depicted by their often humorous, more often tragic, and always convoluted, relationships.

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We begin as witnesses to two single night affairs. Sonja (Olivia Emden), who is married to Leon (Jon Porter), returns to a hotel room with Pete (Jamie Armitage). Appropriately, Leon is with Pete’s wife, Jane (Kassi Chalk).  The two hotel rooms are depicted superimposed, and we watch, somewhat gleefully, as the two parties share dialogue, the set, and unknowingly, their spouses. It is tortuously awkward, although thoroughly captivating to watch, as slowly the characters divulge their faith or lack thereof in their cheating partners.

The play continues in this vein, though slowly darkening. Light hearted comedy of coincidence gives way to disillusionment, self-deception, and mental disorder. The play has a steadily-cultivated kind of self-awareness.  Characters are later decried for daring to spy or stalk others, and there is an implicit sense that the characters intentionally defend their delusions by shutting their eyes. It is an elegant, although ever so slightly unsubtle proposition.

The set is simple and uncluttered, but intelligent detail observed. Martini glasses and relics of affluenza litter the bookshelves. The scene transitions are elegant, but the scenes largely homogenous. That said, this successfully focusses attention on the plot- which is sufficiently intricate to warrant all we can offer it.

Location and characters are generically suburban. At points the dialogue seems to be generalised and almost cliché: generic infidelity stemming from generic ennui. The dialogue per se does not lend itself to the creation of characters, almost rather caricatures. It is a credit then to the actors in that they were able to generate a fully believable and varied cast.

Here, it was the transformation of characters which was best received.  Olivia Emden’s transition from sensual, confident high flyer, Sonja, to sinister and apathetic heart-breaker, Sarah, was suitably disturbing. Kassi Chalk, meanwhile, first taunts the audience with a measured and stable Jane. Eventually, she unleashes her talents with the damaged victim-mentality of Valerie which she portrays worryingly well. Jamie Armitage, as hapless lover Neil, embodies a puppy dog devotion perfectly appropriate for his character.

At least with Jon Porter’s Leon and Nick the audience are finally offered what appears to be a more honest side to humanity–at first.