Speaking in Tongues, Belfry Theatre – a review

Four actors, nine lives, four infidelities, and several unsolved and mysterious situations form the backbone of Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues, currently playing at the Belfry Theatre.

Bovell, an Australian, and screenwriter first known for Simply Ballroom, penned Speaking in Tongues in 1996. It won an AWGIE in 1997, played to critical international acclaim, and was adapted for film as Lantana in 2001.

Yet, somehow, it missed Canada.  Company Theatre staged the Canadian premiere last fall, and thanks to their connection with Belfry Theatre Artistic Director, Michael Shamata,Victoria audiences can now experience Bovell’s intricate language and complex staging.

Speaking in Tongues Group Shot LIYanna Mcintosh, Jonathan Goad, Hélène Joy, Richard Clarkin. Image: Belfry Theatre

Speaking in Tongues forces its audiences to puzzle-out story and plot lines with multiple characters and intersecting lives that collide and careen off one another. Dialogue is at times performed chorus-like, at times staggered.  Actors speak simultaneously and we strain to listen, and understand.  Staging (John Thompson) emphasizes the disconnection and alienation with circles of light, further separating people and place. Rooms are bare with minimal furniture.

The cast, some of Canada’s finest contemporary theatre professionals – Richard Clarkin, Jonathan Goad, Helene Joy, Yanna Mcintosh- display ease and prowess with the challenging interplay of language, and realistically navigate morally ambiguous relationships.  Highlights include a bar scene where the male protagonists (Clarkin and Goad) sympathize with one another on the state of their marriages; a narcissistic and emotionally unavailable Sarah (Joy) in a session with her therapist; and a terrified Valerie (Mcintosh) lost in the woods.

Director Philip Riccio has crafted a highly stylized interpretation of Bovell’s work, accenting the separation these paradoxically inter-connected people feel. No one is ever at ease in their own skin.  Soundscapes (Michael Laird) alternate from intimate and jazzy, to jarring and threatening, heightening feelings of disquiet and dread. The opening tango choreography (Katie Hilliard) hints at evasion to come.

If you are someone who relishes in the pleasures of deduction, and loves the suspense of thrillers, film noir and mystery novels, I would recommend abandoning the program entirely lest you spoil the anticipation.

Although linked in story-telling device to modern movies such as Crash, 21 Grams and Love Actually, Speaking in Tongues has no simple resolution. There will be unanswered questions and significant discussion about the dubious choices these flawed individuals make.  It’s a reflection of life.


A Company Theatre production at the Belfry Theatre
Performance Schedule (January 22 – February 24, 2013)
Tickets $25 to $40 (plus HST) at 250-385-6815 or online at https://tickets.belfry.bc.ca.

Creative Team:


Richard Clarkin, Jonathan Goad, Hélène Joy and Yanna McIntosh

Director Philip Riccio
Set, Costume & Lighting Designer John Thompson
Sound Designer Michael Laird
Choreographer Katie Hilliard
Assistant Director Jillian Harper
Associate Costume Designer Katie Fraser

Events in the Community:

Greater Victoria Public Library Talks (Inside a Thriller)

This season, the Belfry Theatre is partnering with the Greater Victoria Public Library. Join us for a casual lunchtime chat where you can meet one of the artists from the production of Speaking in Tongues and learn about the play from a local expert. These free talks are at 12 noon at the following branches:

> GVPL Oak Bay Branch, 1442 Monterey Ave. (Tuesday, January 29)
> GVPL Bruce Hutchison Branch, 4636 Elk Lake Dr. (Thursday, January 31)
> GVPL Central Branch, 735 Broughton St. (Tuesday, February 5)
> GVPL Emily Carr Branch, 3500 Blanshard St. (Thursday, February 7)

All of these events are free.

Disclaimer: I was offered complimentary tickets to attend the opening night of Speaking in Tongues. I was not paid to write a review nor was I required to do so. As always, I retain editorial control over all the content published on this blog.

About @lacouvee

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