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About Speaking in Tongues

Two couples set out to betray their partners, a lover returns from the past and a husband doesn’t answer the phone. A woman disappears and a neighbour is the prime suspect.
Andrew Bovell's Speaking in Tongues is a play about marital infidelity, with multiple narratives and a mystery at its core.
Subtlety, humour and compassion are bought to the stage in Ballarat National Theatre’s production of Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues, a richly entertaining modern classic. A must-see.

Review (part of) by Diana Simmonds
“…It begins with two couples – Leon and Sonja, Pete and Jane – who are out on the town one night but, because their marriages are at a point of critical midlife ennui, each is alone. Their paths and partnerships unknowingly cross in mid-air in a delicious bit of writing and staging. One pairing retreats, the other goes through with mutual seduction in a beautifully realised sequence of painfully tentative desire. The writing and playing of this ritual of the pick-up is not only technically clever, as dialogue is shared simultaneously and at odds, but sweetly poignant and funny too”.

The play was first performed on 6 August 1996 in a production by Griffin Theatre Company at The Stables, Sydney. It was later adapted by Bovell into the screenplay for the feature film
Lantana (2001).

Premiering at the SBW Stables in Griffin Theatre’s 1996 season, Speaking in Tongues went on to win the AWGIE* for best play before being transformed into the multi AFI award winning hit film Lantana. The play has since been performed around Europe and the US.
*The AWGIE Awards is an annual awards ceremony conducted by the Australian Writers' Guild, for excellence in screen, television, stage and radio writing. The awards began in 1967.

6th - 13th July 2019

  • Location: Ballarat Courthouse Theatre
  • Genre: Drama

  • Playwright: Andrew Bovell

  • Director: Daniel West

About the Director

Daniel West

Dan has worked with Melbourne Writers’ Theatre, ScreenPlay, Theatre Movement, BLOC Music Theatre, Moomba, City of Ballarat, Acoustic Voice, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Hartwell Players, Ballarat Lyric Theatre and Ballarat National Theatre. Dan’s stage roles include Romeo, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Hastings, ‘Richard III’, Jared, ‘Blackrock’, Ali Hakim, ‘Oklahoma!’, Juror 7, ‘12 Angry Men’ and Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’.

His directing credits include Cosi, by Louis Nowra and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both for Damascus College. Dan has worked as a stage manager for theatre and music performances both locally and overseas and designed sound for theatre.

As a musician Dan has played festivals and events, has appeared on several recordings and on stage with bands for the last 20 years. He is a graduate of the Arts Academy, (BAPA) where he completed a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Performance. Dan is a primary school teacher and specialises in performing arts education.

About the Playwrights

Andrew Bovell

Award winning Andrew Bovell was born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. He graduated from the University of Western Australia with a Bachelor of Arts and then a Diploma in Dramatic Arts at the Victorian College of Arts, in Melbourne. His plays include:

  • After Dinner
  • Holy Day - Winner of the 2002 Victorian Premier's Literary Award and AWGIE Stage Award
  • Who's Afraid of the Working Class? - Winner of the 1999 AWGIE Best New Work, AWGIE Best Stage Play, Victorian Green Room Award, and the Queensland Premier's Literary Award
  • Speaking in Tongues - Winner of the 1997 AWGIE Stage Award
  • When the Rain Stops Falling - Winner of the 2008 Queensland Premier's Literary Award, Victorian Premier's Literary Award, 2009 Victorian Green Room Award, AWGIE Stage Award and Sydney Theatre Award Best New Australian Work.
  • The Secret River
  • Things I Know To Be True

Bovell's film credits include:


Kate Suter

Sonja, Sarah

Deborah McKelvey

Jane, Valerie

Josh Broderick

Leon, Nick

Shannon Nicholls

Pete, Neil, John


  • Director

    Dan West

  • Stage Manager and Sound Operation

    Katrina Hill

  • Set Design

    Katrina Hill and Dan West

  • Lighting Design and Operation

    Matt Henderson

  • Lighting Assistance

    Mel Hayward

  • Production Manager

    Liz Hardiman

  • PA System Installation
    Mike Zala
  • Composer and Sound Designer
    Dan West
  • Set Construction Coordination
    Katrina Hill and Matt Henderson
  • Marketing and Publicity
    Graham Maxwell, Liz Hardiman, Pierre Nunns, Dan West, Alexandra Meerbach
  • Front of House Manager
    Robyn Ashmore
  • Costumes
  • Props
    Production Team
  • Photography
    Gary Hunt, Kate Suter and Robyn Ashmore
  • Scenic Artist
    Michael Brennan
  • Poster and Program Design
    Dan West and Liz Hardiman
  • Rehearsal Prompt
    Janette Baxter


Andrew Bovell’s ‘Speaking in Tongues’ directed by Dan West is currently running at The Court House Theatre presented by Ballarat National Theatre. As I take my seat it is good to see that there isn’t a kitchen table or faux couch or mini bar in sight. I’m just not in the mood. The set design (by Dan West, Katrina Hill and Mathew Henderson) is not going for the realism thing. There are muted greys, varying levels of surface and texture and a backdrop that will come alive with colour and drama as the story demands it. And it is all about the story folks. The lights dim and here we go. Four actors, Kate Suter, Deborah McKelvey, Josh Brodrick and Shannon Nicholls will all play a multitude of characters and do so with incredible range and quality – of voice, body language and the all-important unspoken lies and truths from their eyes and faces. They are all exceptional from the get-go.

The complexities of the heart are laid bare and it is wrenching in parts to say the least. Which is of course the writer’s intention. That intention is fully realised by the director as the stakes get higher and higher at a pace that is all about the slow burn. The first act leaves us as an audience feeling already duplicitous, like we are listening in on something that could get us in all sorts of trouble. Well, that’s how I felt. And the beauty of the language allows the characters to not be looked down upon as we sit above in judgement. It is about the potentially dangerous and damaging consequences of what we think love is. As Act One comes to a close, I exhale, with something inside me telling me that the tales so tantalizingly unfolding from these performers are only going to implicate us further in Act two.

And so the tempo rises, the repercussions become increasing more detrimental to the people who are at times communicating so eloquently, only to smash all reason and hope to pieces with the next line that leaves their mouth. And it is real language – the everyday talk of behind closed doors and also of trying, trying, trying to make sense, make amends, make good on their past and present. The music (by West) and lighting (by Henderson) slow dance with each other while these poor exposed souls dance alone. And it works beautifully. This is not to say the play itself is some kind of trial to endure but rather it speaks of matters that could be so damn relatable that you find yourself having to absorb (accept?) the mad, sad poetry of it all. To be so horribly human is on the line with every gesture, offhand remark or telling anecdote from these characters. This is a play that speaks of the jungle of desires and fears that we crazy mixed up grownups always have the potential to project and try to protect ourselves and others from. It is deeply moving and a great story, told by people you can’t help but feel great empathy for despite the wretchedness of their situations. These actors become the people locked in a prison of their own making and again I must commend them for their artistry and bravery.

I got into the car after this and put Nick Cave on spotify. It was on shuffle. As I drove out of the courthouse car park Nick sang these lines: “Let me say this to you, I’ll be steadfast and true – my love will never falter...” It spooked me. This play had just taken such promises and dissected, interrogated and downright ripped them to shreds. Or did they? There are actually moments of empathy and sacrifice from the people inhabiting this world for a couple of hours and all is not completely lost. Or is it? This is where you the audience comes in, I suppose. So, come in. This play was at times delicate and moving, angry and maddening – a universally bloodstained truth of the heart that was incredibly well realised by all.

Speaking in Tongues is on from July 6,9,10,11,12,13 -8pm and July 7 and 13 -2pm. Courthouse Theatre, Ballarat, in association with Blue Raincoat Productions Pty Ltd and The Ballarat National Theatre (
Justin Hayward