Review: Tongue Tied at KXT

If you like your theatre topical, political and feminist, then Tongue Tied—written by Clare Hennessy and directed by Sarah Hadley—is the show for you.

This world premiere production, which is produced by Jess Pantano and Becks Blake under Akimbo + Co. and presented by bAKEHOUSE Theatre at KXT, investigates #MeToo and workplace sexual assault from a journalistic perspective.

Mia (Eloise Snape) is a journalist looking for her big break, and Sarah (Alex Stamell) is a young PA who claims to have been sexually assaulted by her boss—a powerful CEO (Michael C Howlet). Sarah’s story is just what Mia has been looking for, and Mia starts investigating with rigour, and a bit more determination than tact.

Hennessy’s firecracker script is brought to life under Sarah Hadley’s very confident direction, which makes dynamic use of the KXT traverse stage in a simple but effective set by Cris Baldwin. I particularly enjoyed how Hadley used Aron Murray’s lighting design to subtly build tension without overdoing it. The cast—Eloise Snape, Kieran Clancy-Lowe, Alex Stamell, Michael C Howlett, Clementine Anderson and Di Adams—all deliver strong performances that allow the audience to focus on the writing and the high-stakes of the play.   

Mia wants to get this story told, no matter what. It is a fascinating choice by writer Clare Hennessy to discuss workplace sexual assault through the perspective of an ambitious journalist. By making Mia the lead, and someone we root for, it challenges the audience to consider the moral and ethical dilemma she’s placed in—what lines are you willing to cross to ‘get the story’? And whose careers and livelihoods are you willing to sacrifice, so that yours can succeed?

Mia may want to publish this story for the right reasons, but there’s no denying that this article is a big opportunity for her career, and it is fascinating watching Mia struggle to separate her noble intentions from her own self-interest. I appreciated that Tongue Tied delivered journalist lead character who existed in a moral grey area, which was a refreshing change from the trend (particularly in cinema) for journalist characters to be flawless ‘good’ people.

I loved the contemporary and urgent subject matter of the play, and it made me think deeply about the many real-world examples that parallel the events of the play. If the victim wants one thing, and the journalist wants another thing, what is the moral stance to take in reporting about sexual assault and misconduct? To what extent do the public have a right to know about dangerous men in power, even if ‘outing’ those men as predators causes significant harm to the victim?

Tongue Tied is an incisive representation of a media culture that often prioritises publishing ‘scandalous’ news over the wellbeing of victims (see: the EJ Norvill Geoffrey Rush case).

Generally, I liked Clare Hennessy’s decision to focus on Mia and keep Sarah as a supporting character—it reflected how Mia saw Sarah (less important than the story itself) and also spared the audience of any exact details or gratuitous re-enactments of Sarah’s assault (there’s enough media out there already that takes advantage of female pain for ‘drama’).

By avoiding giving any details about the assault, it de-personalised the incident and made the audience focus on the broader trend. This story is less about what exactly happened between Sarah and her boss, and more about the systemic culture of powerful men committing violent acts, then using their wealth and status to cover it up and protect themselves.

I will say, it was a frustrating writing choice to position Mia as the lead for the majority of the play, but then end the play on a climactic and tense scene involving Sarah. It was confusing to feel the focus character change and lose Mia as an anchor to the story. It made the play’s final moments feel unfinished and a little unsatisfying.

This feeling was also magnified by the play’s brevity. Now, normally, I’m a big advocate for short, concise 70-85 minute plays, but Tongue Tied felt too short, and the play’s final third didn’t live up to the high standard set by its first two. Hennessy’s script is tight, and no moments are wasted, but she has omitted a few scenes (for dramatic effect) that I would have loved to see play out on stage. I rarely say this: but I wish the play was longer, and would love to read or see the original two hour version of this script.

Tongue Tied features a lot of elements that I love in my theatre consumption: new writing, the exploration of topical political issues, and female theatremakers being unafraid to depict morally ambiguous female characters. Clare Hennessy’s writing was both my favourite part of this show, and also the part that frustrated me the most. I’m being quite critical about this script because I really did love the show, and was fascinated by the ideas the team explored on stage. I see a lot of potential in this production and would love to see where the script could go with another development.

I hope I get to see it again, one day soon.

Jo Bradley


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