AUSTRALIAN playwright Andrew Bovell's Speaking in Tongues has had global audiences sitting on the edge of their seats as they observe people who initially seem to have no connections but are gradually revealed to have interacted or been seen doing puzzling things.
Bovell also has four actors, two male and two female, playing nine characters, and this format likewise serves to underline that people can have inadvertent relationships and chance connections. And with four performers each playing two or three different characters the play is testing for directors and actors.
Speaking in Tongues is being staged by Maitland Repertory Theatre as a special event between May 1 and 19. The show was put forward by its director, Brendon Harris, who found it to be very engaging when he read it. Harris, who is 24, showed his directorial skill with unusual play formats with his first major production, Kiss Me Like You Mean It, at Maitland Repertory last year, a work he read while doing an Advanced Diploma in Acting course at Hunter TAFE. That play shows the very different relationships of two couples whom circumstances bring together: two people in their early 20s who meet at a drunken birthday party and an elderly couple in a house next door who have been married for 50 years.
With four performers each playing two or three characters the play is testing for directors and actors.
Speaking in Tongues begins with two pairs of unrelated people looking at sharing motel beds while having a drinking night out and becoming separated from their marriage partners. One pair, Jane and Leon, go ahead with the proposal, but the others, Pete and Sonja, don't. When Jane gets home she tells Pete she saw a bloodied male neighbour, Nick, throwing a woman's shoe into the rubbish. In the second part, watchers find out where the shoe came from, with new characters interacting: Nick, the bloodied man; Valerie, a psychologist whose car breaks down on a lonely road at night; John, Valerie's guilt-ridden husband; Sarah, one of Valerie's troubled clients; and Neil, a man who is still attracted to Sarah long after she left him.
In a short third part, more is revealed about the people and their relationships, with Leon, who is a police officer, trying to resolve the disappearance of one of the others.
The players in this production are Maddy Claire Lardner (Jane/Valerie), Faiz Khan (Pete/Neil/John), Brittany Writer (Sonja/Sarah), and Daniel Stranger (Leon/Nick).
Daniel Stranger, who had professional training in England as an actor before migrating to Australia a decade ago, has helped Brendon Harris and other young actors in Newcastle and Hunter towns develop their skills. He is also acting in plays, with his roles including Romeo in a contemporary Newcastle staging of Romeo and Juliet. He is impressed by the way the Speaking in Tongues script shows the different reactions to things that occur. "And you find out as the story develops what really happened to the people, rather than what others express in their discussions," he said.
Maddy Claire Lardner is enjoying playing very different women. She points to Jane being a housewife who is stuck at home all day, "like a big cat in a zoo" and watching her neighbours through a large window. Valerie, she notes, is very efficient. "She knows that her relationship with her husband has deteriorated, and she wants to help other women avoid what has happened to her."
Speaking in Tongues opens at Maitland Repertory Theatre with an 8pm show on Wednesday, May1, then has Friday and Saturday 8pm performances from May 3 to May 18, plus 2pm Sunday matinees on May 12 and 19. Tickets: $25, concession $20. Bookings: Maitland Visitor Information Centre, 4931 2800 (10am - 3pm); maitlandticketing.com.au.
Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr
Young People's Theatre, YPT Theatre, Hamilton. Ends May 25.
THIS bright musical, adapted by Kevin Del Aguila from the script of the Dreamworks animated film and with a lively collection of songs by George Noriega and Joel Someillan, moves briskly along for an hour, with each of its two large young casts delighting watchers of all ages.
The adult staging team have made it a colourful 1970s rock-style show, as the main animals in the New York Zoo, led by the athletic Alex the Lion, escape from their cages to pursue Marty the Zebra, who has just celebrated his 10th birthday with virtually all his life spent in the zoo, and is following a quartet of mischievous penguins longing to return to their Antarctic birthplace. Nothing goes right, of course, and the animals find themselves being shipped back to Africa. The pesky penguins again take control and the ship ends up on the coast of the island of Madagascar, where the animals encounter battling creatures called lemurs and fossas.
The costumes certainly suggest the nature of the animals, with the penguins in warm black industrial-style garb that would be appropriate in an icy setting. And, as Alex the Lion recalls in Madagascar the uncooked steak that the zoo keepers fed him every day, a chorale quintet appears in red clothes to bring colourfully alive in the song Steak what he is thinking, with the dance movements putting big smiles on watchers' faces. Alex's garb, likewise has a rocking nature.
The set designs also bring out the character of the various settings, with an elegant New York skyline behind the zoo and ceiling-to-floor greenish-vegetation fabric strands behind the animals in the Madagascar settings.