TRIBES – SILO THEATRE – Maidment Theatre – Opening Night Review

TRIBES is a British play by Nina Raine. Silo Theatre presented their opening night of the Auckland production on the 8 June at Maidment Theatre.

The play opens amid a passionate and animated discussion around the dinner table of a middle class British family. 

This free spirited and creative family is dominated by their hilarious father Christopher, Michael Hurst, as they swear, shout and talk over each other seemingly indulging in the sounds of their own voices.

However one character is notably quieter, the deaf son Billy, played by Leon Wadham. Billy watches and follows the conversation with his eyes only occasionally speaking up to ask ‘what did you say?’

The amazing unawareness of his bohemian brood to notice him leads Billy to eventually make an announcement, a declaration that will thrust his reluctant family in to the world of Deaf people and signing. He is in love.

The arrival of Billy’s girlfriend Sylvia alters this family forever.

Sylvia teaches Billy Sign Language. This is a world where Billy can finally be heard, but one that alienates and frustrates his family. His parents always wanted him to fit in, not be ‘different’ or ‘disabled’.

Billy has two siblings. Fern Sutherland expertly portrays his sister Ruth, the twenty something trying to find her identity which currently is in the guise of an Opera Singer. She is kind but unfocused and craves attention. 

His older brother Dan starts the play as a bolshie bossy bigger brother who teases and torments Ruth, as all good older brothers should, but it is his love and jealousy of his brother Billy that brings this character’s journey to a head.

Dan, played by Emmett Skilton, goes through a metamorphosis of regression throughout the play and Emmett was able to communicate the character in a sympathetic way captivating the audience emotionally.

Billy’s eccentric mother Ruth is played to maternal perfection by Catherine Wilkin. She is funny and quick and reflects perfectly the juggling act of parent and wife adding her quirky expressions making her a delight to watch.

The play beautifully uses a backdrop of subtitles and music to jump the audience out of the action and in to the characters subconscious, as well as a device to interpret the sign language. It is a very powerful tool that adds to the plays overall emotion, the first use of which produced audible gasps from the audience.

Billy’s autocratic father, although funny throughout, highlights the danger of thinking we know best. Michael Hurst portrayed the strength and stubbornness of this somewhat selfish character in a warm and amusing way and superbly delivers a lot of the best lines in the play.

Ingrid Grenar and Leon Wadham who played Billy

The most interesting character relationship is between Billy and Sylvia. Both deaf, but Billy from birth and Sylvia is going deaf. One of the lines that stuck was Sylvia telling Billy ‘I never knew going deaf would be so noisy!’.

Sylvia was played by Jodie Hillock and she has a very tough character to play. Jodie does well to bring the new energy and ideas the Sylvia creates from that first moment when she bursts in to the lives of this messed up family, flipping their world upside down. Her exchanges with Billy’s father were particularly well played.

The overall star performance has to be Leon Wadham’s. He portrays Billy’s strengths and weaknesses subtly and with great honesty and depth. He is clearly a young actor with the breadth to carry off this challenging role and he does so absolutely and thoroughly, producing an enjoyable, funny, heartwarming and emotional character.

The reactions of the audience during this opening night were audible throughout producing laughter, gasps and tears.

This play will make you laugh almost all the way through while also managing to raise questions about society, family, love and expectations but especially about how we communicate with each other.

TRIBES will stay with you and no doubt spark new discussions amongst your own family.

You can watch Nina Raine’s Tribes at Maidment Theatre from the silo Theatre Trust until 30 June

Sign Language Interpreted performances : Mon 11 & 18 June