Last night was busy. What began as plans to go to Tribes with Adam turned into dinner with a friend I havent seen in ages, then Tribes, then popping in to see Anya for her 21st. After a total public transport fail I was a little stressed and grumpy to begin with but it turned into a really great night! We had dinner with Joel at Tyler St Garage (Japanese Fried Chicken, I lurrrve you) and then caught a cab up to the Maidment to see Tribes before briefly seeing Anya and co. before they set off for town. I warn you now, while this post is masked in things I did last night, really it’s just going to be a review of Tribes.
Tribes, written by Nina Raine and directed by Silo’s Artistic Director, Shane Bosher is about family and listening. Or more, not listening, or not even being able to listen. I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of events, but in a nutshell Tribes is about a hearing family with a deaf son. It’s about language, and how we communicate, what we use to communicate and what that means to who we are as people. Suitably the tag line is, ‘Stop arguing, start talking.’
I found the concept of this play really fascinating. Before the play even started, Adam and I were reading the brochure. It includes an explanation by Nina Raine about writing the play and other thoughts relating to the topic. What particularly struck us was a mention of Helen Keller who was born both deaf and blind. The thought of it totally bewilders me and Adam and I spent a substantial amount of time discussing it. At the heart of it, it’s just totally incomprehensible for me as someone who has experienced both sight and sound.
Tribes doesn’t just stop at being a good concept though. The dialogue is fantastic, I absolutely adored Michael Hurst playing the grumpy, argumentative and metaphor using father, while afterwards Adam and I spent quite a bit of time attempting to talk like the opera singing daughter, played by Fern Sutherland. I hate to single these two out however when the whole cast was great and totally on form. Emmett Skilton as the damaged but buffoonish older brother, Leon Wadham as the deaf son who the family has brought up as ‘hearing’, Catherine Wilkin as the mother (who at times totally reminded me of some of the matriarchs of my own family) and Jodie Hillock, playing a woman who was once totally able to hear, but is quickly becoming deaf.
Hillock’s character, Sylvia was pretty pivotal. Up until her introduction the play was good, but it could have just continued as family banter time. Sylvia introduces another dynamic, she’s totally involved in the deaf world, but is not comfortable with being deaf as its still developing for her. She introduces a number of layers into Tribes which makes it somewhat more real, plausible. It’s bizarre because Tribes begins in a world in which ‘hearing’ people are comfortable, it’s a world where we are dominant and the deaf have to attempt to be understood or otherwise be ignored. Sylvia is introduced towards the end of the first act and by the end of the second, it’s become grating, difficult to listen to or comprehend. The roles have been flipped.
Its easy to say therefore that Tribes is very full of content, it’s interesting, funny and thought provoking. But what would a Silo show be without some great design?
The set, designed by John Veryt is great. It’s a home but it’s a proper home, not just a show home if that makes sense. You can see the family in their own space. The lighting compliments this creating warm focuses on specific areas throughout the play. I particularly liked that when the lights were dimmed, that there were small orange glows emitting from lamps and other objects that were part of the set.
The projection and sound really made it though. The projection was very simple, white text on a black ground. The designers daughter in me made me quite pleased that they’d used the same font as for the rest of Silo’s stuff – booklets, ads, websites etc. Gotta love continuity. It was used when characters were vigorously signing, but also to convey the occasional thought. Usually one which is totally obvious but totally contradictory to what the characters are saying. That made me laugh.
Sound was always going to be important in a show like this. It’s a good thing then that Sean Lynch has great taste in music. A particularly favourite moment for me was when a character playing Clare de Lune on the piano melts into a recording of the piece. I have a big soft spot for that song, I’ll tell you that much. I’m definitely going to have to harass him for a list of the tracks. This part isn’t necessarily related to Sean’s work, but I also quite enjoyed how loud and perfectly anunciated the actors were. It was great because it fitted so well, of course a family with a deaf member will be very loud and clear in their speech. Perfect.
Tribes was really good. I didn’t enjoy the second half as much as the first, but that was mainly because it was harder to listen to which is totally the point. And something for my fellow English students – you can totally tell that Nina Raine studied English at uni. They discuss things like semiotics.
Unfortunately if you’re reading this and thinking, dayum I really want to go! You don’t have many chances left as it closes on Saturday night. You can buy tickets here. I’d recommend it, it was definitely worth the 25 bucks I spent.