Toronto
2 min

Rhyming couple

Woo the same lass

INFECTIOUS WORD PLAY. Kathleen Oliver tricked herself into writing a hit debut play. Credit: Xtra files

Despite the suggestive title, Swollen Tongues was never intended to be a lesbian love story. “It all really came about because I woke up one morning with rhyming couplets in my head,” says Vancouver playwright Kathleen Oliver. “They’d infected me and I started to write them down. I’d never written a play before, but I had written poetry. So that was how I tricked myself into writing. I wouldn’t think about writing an entire play, I just focussed on the short-term goal of making the next line rhyme. The plot just followed from that.”



Set sometime in the unspecified past, Swollen Tongues is what Oliver calls “a slightly twisted” restoration farce, written entirely in rhyming couplets. A brother and sister, Thomas and Catherine, are in love with the same woman, a sexy dressmaker named Sonja. Unable to reveal her own longings, Catherine rewrites Thomas’s dreadful love poems to Sonja and signs them with the pseudonym Sir Overripe. When Thomas finds out about his rival, he takes the suggestion of his tutor, Dr Wise, and challenges him to a poetry showdown. And as befits a period farce, mayhem, in the form of mistaken identities, crossdressing, double entendres and furious wordplay ensue.



Playing with both modern and period language and phrases, Oliver says she didn’t find it restrictive to write in poetic form. “It was actually quite a fertile structure and real spur to creativity. When I have no restraints, I can often be overwhelmed by the enormity of the canvas. Having a form to write in was actually really liberating.”



After winning the Canadian National Playwriting Competition in 1997, Swollen Tongues was first staged in an earlier form at Vancouver in 1998, as part of the Women In View Festival. It’s since been produced in London, UK in 2000 and it toured the UK in 2002. The Toronto production, which will be the Canadian premiere of the final script, opens Thu, Oct 24 at Factory Theatre is produced Necessary Angel Theatre and directed by Richard Rose. The stellar cast includes Karen Hines as Catherine and Nancy Palk as Dr Wise.



Oliver, who has an MA in English and spent years working in arts administration, now writes full-time. She has four new projects, including a play about the life of Colette and Carol’s Christmas, a contemporary Scrooge story for Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre, which will premiere this Christmas.



Oliver says theatre is something that she just fell into. “I’ve been writing since I was six, in fact, some of my fiction was written when I was nine. But I just find writing prose very difficult. I am so fortunate that I found playwriting and had a lot of support when I began. Because if someone had told me when I started that it would take four years to write a play and get it produced, I don’t think I ever would have done it.



“I think I was really na├»ve at first. Theatre is a very slow process and rushing it is really hard, because plays really deserve the time to develop and workshop and rewrite. With Swollen Tongues, even though I was getting really positive responses to it, it just wasn’t getting produced. But I kept sending out the script. Finally I sent out the play with a really cheeky cover letter to 72 Canadian theatre companies. It was the first time I had contacted Richard Rose and he just happened to be looking for another project and it that was it.”



SWOLLEN TONGUES.

Thu, Oct 24-Nov 10.

$22-$30. 8pm. Tue-Sat.

2:30pm Sat & Sun (PWYC).

Factory Studio Theatre.

125 Bathurst St.

(416) 504-9971.