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Amber, Roving reporter

Tribes

4 February - 14 March 2012, MTC Sumner Theatre, Southbank, Melbourne

TribesStarring: Luke Watts, Sarah Peirse, David Paterson, Brian Lipson, Julia Grace, Alison Bell.
Directed by Julian Meyrick
Written by Nina Raine

Tribes is a totally eccentric and unexpected play about belonging, communication and chaos.

Billy (Watts) is the only deaf member of his completely self-absorbed family. Instead of Billy learning to sign and be labelled as "handicapped", his mother has taught him to lip-read. However, over the years sitting round the kitchen table Billy has only heard white noise and finds himself constantly repeating "what?"

Between a linguistics-teaching father, a novelist mother, an experimental opera singing sister and a thesis-writing brother, there is not much time spared to stop and listen to what Billy is saying.

The family is a close-knit tribe with their own form of ritual communication, who believe that having a good argument is an expression of love.

After a particularly chaotic dinner Billy announces that he has found a girl, Sylvia (Bell), who is going deaf and who has taught him to sign. While Billy and Sylvia's relationship strengthens, Billy is exposed to the deaf community and discovers that his whole life he has been made to fit into his family’s lifestyle, while they have never been bothered to try to tune into Billy’s world.

As Billy learns about the deaf community his brother Dan (Paterson) feels frustrated that all the attention is now on his younger brother.

Billy begins refusing to speak to his family unless they learn to sign. Thanks to a combination of family expectations, drug abuse and denial Dan finds he is unable to communicate with his family. This causes Dan to experience what his brother has been experiencing, and he takes the first step toward communicating with Billy through sign.

Nina Raine has created a refined world of speech and sign, an unexpectedly beautiful creation that she says was inspired by a television documentary about a deaf couple who were hoping their child would be born deaf. Tribes is Raine’s second play after winning the Evening Star Award and Critics Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright with her debut play Rabbit in 2006.

This is Luke Watts's very first stage performance with MTC. He has previoulsy appeared with Australian Theatre of the Deaf and has led workshops for students in Visual Communication and Physical Theatre. He has also appeared in campaigns for Hearing Awareness Week.

The set (designed by Stephen Curtis) is a constantly moving platform of the family's living room. It moves together and apart in a jigsaw pattern, just as the family itself does, embodying the way in which Billy has been forced into his family's routine.

Tribes combines speech and sign language, which gives the audience an insight to what a deaf world can be like. Captions appeared on a LED screen above the stage, translating the sign language and the truthful subtext of the family's words.

Tribes explores the limitations of communication within a dysfunctional family, which in reality reflects the challenge society faces with the constant advancement in technologies that leaves people unable to speak truthfully or honestly.

An outstanding performance.

5 out of 5

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