When: Thursday, 7 June - Saturday, 30 June
Where: Maidment Theatre, 8 Alfred Street, Albert Park, Auckland
How much: $25 - $55
Ever get the feeling your thoughts fall on deaf ears? The highly entertaining and dysfunctional family in the Auckland Theatre Company’s production Tribes sure do but that doesn’t stop them from relentlessly banging on.
This unconventional British family of big thinkers and even bigger talkers all communicate by swearing and shouting over the top of one another. Well, all of them that is except for Billy (Leon Wadham), the deaf member of the family. He desperately tries to keep up with what's being said by lip reading but it's impossible and no-one will take the time to explain.
Christopher, the father, has the most acidic tongue and makes no apology for looking down his nose at pretty much anyone who is not an immediate family member. Ruth (Fern Sutherland) and Daniel (Emmet Skilton), both members of The Almighty Johnsons cast, are in their 20s, living at home and seemingly petrified of growing up. Daniel is writing his thesis on the meaningless of language (no, the irony is not lost here) and Ruth is an aspiring opera singer. Wife and mother Beth, played by Catherine Wilkin is, no surprises, the grounding force within the family.
When Sylvia (Jodie Hillock), Billy’s new and very first girlfriend meets the family she is shocked by Christopher’s callousness, clearly she has not grown up in a family that equates arguing with love. Unlike Billy, Sylvia is not entirely deaf. She was born to deaf parents and is slowly losing her hearing, leaving her in the unenviable position of belonging to neither the hearing nor the deaf world.
Observing the dynamics between the very tight knit ‘tribe’ is compelling but what makes this family drama really stand out is the way in which the characters explore what it means to be deaf or hearing and how expressing yourself in sign language differs to the use of verbal communication.
Nina Raine’s clever script makes this play instantly absorbing. Unfortunately however, the second half doesn’t have quite as much impact as certain details suggested in earlier scenes are a bit too laboriously explained and a distracting layer of drama is added when Daniel’s demons come back to haunt him. But these are minor criticisms of a play totally worth seeing. Tribes is dark, funny, intelligent, superbly acted and full of heart.