Tribes

Tue 3rd – Sat 7th November 2015

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 00:53 on 4th Nov 2015

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Tribes was the best show I have seen so far this term. It was really well written, its six actors were all great, and it connected deeply with the audience, calling forth long, loud laughter, and even a few tears. Grab a ticket before everyone else hears about it.

The play itself is incredibly well written, and is all about speech, and lack of it: what we say, what we should have said, what we actually meant. The set design - a very natural and believable family home interior - made the most of these interesting questions. The signed dialogue was subtitled on a screen in the corner of the stage, but so was much of the spoken dialogue. This enabled a really effective and sophisticated game in the production, offering translations of the often inaccurate expressions of the speaking characters. It was at times a little out of synch with the onstage action, but this was probably nothing more than a slight opening night glitch, and the text always remained understandable. It showed where what was said didn't express what was really going on, but also where it did. The family situation, although unusual and dysfunctional, was recognisable, and much of the laughter in the first act, and no doubt a few of the tears, were the audience recognising themselves in the characters and their interactions.

Alasdair McNab was brilliant as the thrillingly non-P.C. father Christopher, his every shouted addition to the action making the audience laugh, or cringe. Think of that slightly racist uncle who means well, but always unapologetically puts his foot in his mouth at family dinners. His screaming, red-faced incredulity transitioned throughout from raucously funny to completely infuriating, to tragically damaging, and he did a great job of all of them.

Rebecca Cusack was his long-suffering wife Beth, and perfectly portrayed this slightly troubled relationship. She was loving, exasperated, understanding and beside the point by turns, and she perfectly delivered some of the funniest lines. I may never look at a kimono the same way again.

Alice Carlill and Jonah Hauer-King were often painfully recognisable as the warring brother and sister Daniel and Ruth, forced to move back home. A play featuring a struggling musician and an aspiring academic who live with their parents well into their twenties definitely resonated with a Cambridge crowd. They were both very funny, and also very affecting - Alice Carlill's final scene tears were genuine and impressive, and Jonah Hauer-King's unravelling over the course of the play was sensitive, complex, and completely absorbing, managing to hold onto the audience even as the character threatened to drag others down with him.

The couple at the centre of the play, Mark Milligan as Billy and Bea Svistunenko as Sylvia were entirely believable and intriguing to watch, lots of preparation must have gone into their portrayals of the two deaf characters of the place. Mark Milligan's development from a butter-wouldn't-melt innocent at the beginning to a flawed and fleshed out man at the end was skilful - even towards the end, he kept the charm of the character, and the audience's sympathy. Bea Svistunenko's transformation almost worked in the other direction - slightly suspicious at the beginning, thanks to the family's reaction, she became someone the audience could really latch on to; a bridge between hearing family and deaf son. Her conflicted feelings towards both revealed the complexity of the situation with delicacy, and helped a mostly hearing audience understand what was at stake.

Tribes was a huge success, and the brief (ADC!) applause at the end was especially impassioned. You know that you've seen something powerful when the curtain goes down on a weeping audience and a weeping cast. This is definitely the kind of play which you'll be thinking and talking about for days afterwards. The theatre was only half full for opening night, which for a play this powerful and successful, is a tragedy. Grab tickets now!!!

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Cameron Wallis

at 01:01 on 4th Nov 2015

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‘Tribes’ intricately weaves a beautiful, yet claustrophobic, story of six characters meandering through life in their own little bubbles. Poignantly asking questions about language, perspective and family, Robbie Hunt has masterfully directed a play that is fully deserving of the five stars I have awarded it.

You know the actors are seriously good when they take their bows at the end of the play and one of them is still wiping away tears, following an incredibly touching, heart-wrenching final scene. ‘Tribes’ played with the emotions of its audience by smoothly alternating between the genres of light-hearted comedy and emotional family drama. The production’s success in the balancing of these apparently opposite genres was extremely impressive, and for this reason both the production team and the cast deserves praise for a show that was seriously moving yet also riotously funny...

Alasdair McNab put in a supremely hilarious performance as Christopher, with his outrageously insensitive and politically incorrect lines. Especial congratulations to him for bringing us to our knees with laughter, whilst also making us seriously ponder the immorality of Christopher's attitudes.

Rebecca Cusack played an extremely convincing Beth, the novelist wife of Christopher. Poorly treated yet ever-loyal to her husband, at the end of the play we all felt endeared to this character who brought a certain bustle and fluster to the play.

Sylvia (played by Bea Svistunenko) sweeps in as a wonderful breath of fresh air to Billy’s unconventional and claustrophobic family-tribe. In turn, Svistunenko succeeded in sweeping the audience off their feet with her wonderful portrayal of an outsider intruding upon a close-circuited group with its own traditions and attitudes. Most movingly of all was the scene in which she acted as a translator between Billy and his family rendering me and the rest of the audience utterly speechless.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, the three siblings. Billy (Mark Milligan), Ruth (Alice Carlill) and Dan (Jonah Hauer-King) who all put in absolutely tremendous performances deserving of the highest praise. These actors perfectly conveyed their characters' isolation from one another, and yet also managed to compound this with a beautiful brotherly and sisterly love between them. The exploration of relationships between siblings was perhaps the most enchanting element of the performance, and only brought to life because of these excellent actors.

Making its audience think about specific questions relating to minority communities and the treatment of deaf people, as well as broader questions about communication, belonging and love, ‘Tribes’ is a play that will have you thinking about it long after the final curtain falls. The brilliance of the production is how very realistic and believable the characters are. Minor first night hiccups and small nit-picked details – like the technological confusion with the subtitles, the cutting of ‘Clare de Lune’ short at the end of the first half, and the rather worrying amount of sexual chemistry between the siblings Ruth and Dan – did not detract from what was without doubt a tremendous performance. My deepest compliments to the cast and crew of ‘Tribes’ for putting on a magnificently subtle performance which succeeded in cohesively making an entire audience reconsider their own lives in light of the production.

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