When a play gets the half time interval, and you are annoyed that there is a break, its a good sign that the play has managed to grip your attention and you want to see how it ends.
Circa’s production of Tribes was excellent. A great mix of tension, humour, light and sound. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
The set is a typical living room, with a large screen behind it. The screen is an essential part of the show, where the sign language is translated, and very amusingly sometimes the private thoughts of the cast also.
The play by Nina Raine, originated in London, and has won three major international awards.
The cast is primarily a family of five, all creative. Father Christopher is an academic critic who critiques everything from his children’s boyfriends and girlfriends to the deaf community and Northerners. His long suffering wife Beth is writing a a book that was originally about a marriage breakdown but hilariously also includes a murder mystery now.
The kids are all in their 20s. Daniel and Ruth have both moved back home, and ignore their father’s entreaties to “fuck off” and get real jobs. She is an wannabee opera singer and he is writing a thesis on language. Daniel has some psych issues (his father blames on pot) and hears accusatory voices all the time. He used to have a stutter, and it returns when his brother Billy moves out.
To a degree the show is about Billy. He was born deaf. His siblings are very protective of him. His father has been determined not to let his disability define him and he has learnt to lip read par excellence, rather than use sign language.
The family is charming and engaging in their mild dysfunctionality, and then things get interesting when Billy meets Sylvia. She can do fluent sign language as her parents are deaf. She was not born deaf, but is losing her hearing and becoming deaf.
Now don’t think this is some sort of woe are the deaf, how miserable their lives are play. It is a play about tribes – the family tribe and the deaf community.
Father Christopher is very sceptical of Sylvia and asks her at one point about the “deaf community”. She replies that it is very hierarchical with people judging you on whether or not you were born deaf, or became deaf, if you can sign or lip or both, etc etc. She also comments “Plus of course, we’ve all slept with each other” which rarks the family up as Billy has never had a girlfriend.
Jeffery Thomas is excellent as Christoper, Billy’s father. He provokes and frustrates, and provides much humour. Nathan Mesiter also was very good as Billy’ brother. He is both smart and suave and stammering and lacking self-confidence.
The play is 140 minutes long, with a break. As I said at the beginning I found it got me interested from the first scene, and never let go. There are so many tensions that you want to find out where it all leads. There are no saints in this play, just a mosaic of flawed but loving family.
A lot of humour keeps you engaged also. The thoughts on the screen. The asking Sylvia to sign a translation of “Fucking her was like making love to a concrete mixer” was memorable.
When a local theatre takes on an award winning international play, the worry is that they will not do justice to the original. But the production team and cast have shown this is not the case – it was a great play, and well worth seeing.