Review by James Ong
One of the last productions being run in the original KXT venue prior to their relocation in early 2023, we are presented with yet another striking show filled with powerful performances and an unsettling undercurrent. Brought to the stage by Akimbo + Co., Tongue Tied joins the ever growing list of remarkable shows hosted by the independent theatre institution.
In this brand new Australian work, we are immediately thrust into thee middle of an unfolding narrative, based around the noble and steadfast Mia, a journalist piecing together her next story, one based around the sexual assault and subsequent firing of a corporate worker. Her search drives her deep into the ‘culture’-centric corporate world, where the charmingly un-corporate demeanour and ultra-white, masculine and privileged environment obscure more insidious dealings. Eloise Snape explores Mia’s moral boundaries with a compellingly honest aura and maintains the tone despite being pitted again some quite vibrant characters along the way - most notably Kieran Clancy-Lowe’s Parker, a PR manager with a weaponised himbo-ism. He’d almost seem cartoonish if he wasn’t so painfully realistic in that world.
A key through line for the work is in how people are in constant peril of losing control over their own story - whether that be through an active derailment at someone else’s hands or through the re-tellers of said story carrying ulterior motives. This disquieting sentiment is something playwright Clare Hennessy is keenly aware of. The character that really should be the centrepiece of our interest (a victim aiming to tell their story) is pushed to the side and seen quite sparingly throughout the runtime; we’re not given much detail in what happened to them and when they do gain a voice, it’s all framed around the impact on others. We are consistently reminded to empathise with this person and yet there’s not much real interest in their wellbeing - a poignant reflection of the dehumanisation that is inherent in the news landscape. In a broader lens we are diving into our culture’s bloodthirsty sense of justice and undying ability to commodify pain. The overall narrative and character types do seem to inherit a lot from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, though Hennessy eschews the holier-than-thou sensibilities for a much more self-reflective and valuable take. The staging, led by director Sarah Hadley, opts for a more minimalist aesthetic in order to deepen these themes of moral relativism. Cold, neutral tones in the set, costume and lighting design allow us to look past the glitzy ‘cul-chah’ of an Australian corporate office and see each person for the knotty mess of conflicted ethics they are. We may be a product of our deeply competitive or toxic surroundings , but we should be held accountable for our actions as individuals.
Tongue Tied is a wonderfully realised and thought-provoking new work that wrangles together a lot of difficult to navigate topics with great success. With authentic performances and a tactful exploration of our ability to prioritise our own progression over the pain or accountability of others, the show is definitely one to seek to out.