Tribes

The Crucible
- , 2017

Tickets cost £20

A powerful and emotionally charged look at the challenge of communicating exactly how we feel. Our review...

Buy tickets
Tribes Archived

The play’s central character Billy (Ciaran Alexander Stewart) sits at an empty table, twirling pasta around a fork and sipping a glass of wine as the audience filters in. In the close quarters of the Crucible’s Studio Theatre, it’s like we’ve been invited along for dinner. We sit quietly with Billy and we wait.

The next thing you know, in rushes a torrent of noise and swearing, in the form of Billy’s very vocal family. Dad Christopher (Simon Rouse) has a strong opinion on just about everything, Mum Beth (Lindy Whiteford) is attempting to keep the peace and finish a novel, brother Dan (Oliver Johnstone) is struggling to write his thesis, and sister Ruth (Louisa Connolly-Burnham) is a young singer just beginning her foray into opera. Nina Raine’s sparkling dialogue lined with quips, swearing and arguing, pings back and forth, back and forth between family members across the table, with Billy in the middle of it all, present but uninvolved.

It’s not an unfamiliar situation for Billy, who was born deaf into a hearing family. His mother taught him how to speak, but his family never learned sign language, meaning that Billy often finds himself left out on the fringes of their interactions. His world changes dramatically when he meets girlfriend Sylvia (Emily Howlett), a woman slowly losing her hearing, who teaches him how to sign.

This is a punchy and emotionally charged production that draws its power from Nina Raine’s writing and from the considered performances by this compact cast – there’s not a weak link around that table. Its central preoccupation is the struggle of expressing to someone else precisely how we think and feel. Each character finds that no single form of communication can get across exactly what they’re trying to say, whether they’re speaking, signing, writing, or singing.

Raine of course makes the most of the language at her disposal and there are some lovely lines in this script. Dan describes heartbreak as when "you give someone your heart and they leave it on the bus" and when Billy tells his family he will only communicate with them if they learn sign language, he signs "this is the first time you've ever listened to me properly and it's because I'm not speaking". At the other end of the emotional scale is Christopher, who describes someone as having "all the charisma of a bus shelter" and swears like a trooper, with great comic effect.

A funny, at times melancholy, but wholly engaging production, Tribes acknowledges the fact that some things do get lost in translation. It urges us, however, to search for the common ground, to translate and to try again, to understand and be understood.

Written by Emma Liasides; July 7, 2017

Related