Note: This review is from the 2017 Fringe

Speaking in Tongues comprises two parts, watched by an audience seated on swivel chairs, affording the opportunity for an immersive, close-up experience. While The Truths and The Lies are separate shows in terms of ticketing, the stories inter-lock and need one another to really engage us – as standalone pieces each lack depth and the background that makes the plot interesting. Committing to two shows and two tickets is quite an ask at the Fringe and is probably too ambitious or presumptuous from any individual or company without a well established and considerable sell-out history.

That said, this is an intriguing premise with some very good acting in evidence. The cast of four play a minimum of two roles each across the two parts, with some characters appearing in both. Swivel chairs are not unique to this show, but they’re still a minority theatrical tool, giving the production an interesting edge. The setting in what resembles a big white bouncy castle, lends itself to immersive theatre – the action happens among and around us, adding the sense of reality. The actors pitch their performances well to suit this – it does mostly feel like we’re spying on them, rather than watching a theatrical performance, which is exactly the effect we want from this. It’s subtle, believable and often intense. Sections of projected film should add to the creation of the plays’ worlds, but doesn’t quite work due to the ribbed nature of the venue’s walls and ceiling, which considerably distorts the images.

The Lies begins with a clever section of mirrored dialogue and Mamet style over-talking, an exposition of the parallel lives of two couples entangled in complicated marriages and extra-marital affairs. The characters and (most of) the acting are strong and the story doesn’t builds but then doesn’t seem to go anywhere, becoming a little tedious and eventually ending abruptly.

The Truths has a different feel. The script style is less exciting than the beginning of the previous, but the story – aided by the back story from the first half – is gripping and ends well. We meet some of the same characters, but mostly we meet minor characters who are mentioned, but unseen in the first part. There’s suspense as the mystery unravels and the benefit of hearing stories from more than one angle.

The swivel element is interesting, but with only four actors, and often only two on stage at a time it is sometimes a bit redundant.  It would be just as good, if not better, as a piece of promenade theatre or even in the round. The sense of intimacy is appealing though and serves as a showcase for some excellent acting – most notably Kate Austen‘s perfectly pitched, remarkably real, emotionally complex and riveting portrayals of two very different women.  Phil Aizlewood has presence and gives a particularly good performance in The Lies, while Ben Elder brings a variety of characters with believable accents and Georgina Periam is solid throughout.

These are three star shows that could become a four star show if the two pieces were carefully consolidated into one, keeping the best elements of each. The Lies is saved from two stars by the quality of acting and initial scripting, but considering the ticket price, only just.