Friday, 10 February 2012

Tribes by Nina Raine, MTC Feb 9, 2012 ***1/2

Tribes by Nina Raine
by Melbourne Theatre Company
MTC Sumner Theatre, Feb 4 to March 14, 2012, Opening night Feb 9
Reviewer: Kate Herbert in Feb 9, 2012
Stars: 3 &1/2
(L-R) Brian Lipson (Christopher), Alison Bell (Sylvia) David Paterson (Daniel), Julia Grace (Ruth) Photo credit: Jeff Busby
THE DEAF COMMUNITY MAY BE VIEWED as a separate, sometimes ostracised tribe in the broader community but, in Tribes, Nina Raine also explores the hierarchical, discriminatory internal relationships inside the Deaf tribe.

Raine’s play, directed capably by Julian Meyrick, features dynamic, hilarious or moving scenes and cunningly written, witty dialogue but the play in its entirety is unbalanced, various narrative threads do not converge coherently and the incessant conflict is exhausting.

 Raine underscores rather too heavily her point that our world is riddled with multiple, valid languages – speech, books, digital media, radio, opera, signing, semiotics – and with the endless repetition of this notion, she seems to be shouting, ‘The Deaf have a valid language too!’ 

The play is about a dysfunctional family that spends its time in verbal warfare, defending opinions, hurling criticism, firing insults and protecting intellectual positions and individual life choices.

Silent amongst this seething pot of family conflict is youngest son, Billy (Luke Watts), the deaf boy who is left out of conversations despite, lip-reading, speaking and wear hearing aids.

When Billy meets Sylvia (Alison Bell) who is slowly losing her hearing but is fluent in sign language because her entire family is all deaf, he not only falls in love with her, but with the Deaf community.

The repercussions are overwhelming for the family, who are confronted by Billy’s new independence and his rejection of their unintentional treatment of him as an outsider.

Brian Lipson is hilariously eccentric as Christopher, the combative and intellectual father, while Sarah Peirse as his wife, Beth, is a gentle foil for him with her calm but firm demeanour.

Bell is warm, sensitive and passionate as Sylvia and David Paterson gives an impeccable, detailed performance as brother Daniel as he declines into a psychotic state.

Julia Grace plays sister Ruth, as a resentful, unfulfilled opera singer and, as Billy, Luke Watts, (performer with Australian Theatre of the Deaf) is at his best when he communicates evocatively and passionately in sign language, as his acting skills are limited.

Director, Meyrick, inventively places this family drama in a cavernous space, the stage stripped bare to the back wall, so that the characters appear to be dumped, like puny humans, on an alien landscape.

This almost Brechtian Alienation effect is heightened by Stephen Curtis’s design which makes their home like a warehouse, with steel frameworks beneath their feet and sliding floor panels that transport them and their seemingly doll-sized furniture deep into the recesses of the stage.

Projected above the stage are surtitles of English translations of Billy and Sylvia’s Auslan conversations, as well as the inner thoughts of the other family members, exposing the secret communications between characters.

This family tribe is challenged by a second tribe, the Deaf community, and their incapacity to manage the ripple effects create both comic and poignant moments.

By Kate Herbert

No comments:

Post a Comment