Theatre review: Tribes, Cumbernauld Theatre

Tribes. Picture: Solar Bear
Tribes. Picture: Solar Bear
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IN AN AGE of restricted budgets, it’s a thrill to walk into the auditorium for this touring production of Nina Raine’s Tribes, and find the stage set for a full-scale, two-act family drama featuring a cast of six.

Tribes 
Cumbernauld Theatre
Rating: ****

First seen at the Royal Court in 2010, and now given its Scottish premiere by Solar Bear – the Glasgow-based company specialising in work for deaf and hearing audiences -– this beautifully crafted play describes a crisis in the life of Billy, the grown-up deaf son of a bohemian middle-class hearing family.

Billy’s parents, Christopher and Beth, have never been in any doubt that they are doing the right thing in encouraging Billy to lip-read, to speak, and to integrate with hearing society; but when he falls in love with Sylvia, who uses sign language, Billy begins to rebel against his family’s attitudes, setting up ripples of reaction that almost destroy his fragile brother Daniel, who has mental health problems.

All of this is perfectly captured by Gerry Ramage’s powerful cast, led by Richard Addison and Jeanette Foggo as the parents and an excellent Alex Nowak as Billy, with Ben Clifford, Stephanie McGregor and Kirsty McDuff. Jessica Brettle’s domestic set is luminous, shifting and flexible, making plenty of space for projected surtitles. And if the play swerves abruptly away from what seems like a potentially tragic ending, it still strikes straight to the heart of the politics of 21st century deafness and disability, and fleshes out those issues with a humanity that makes Billy’s struggle for autonomy both unforgettable, and completely absorbing.

• On tour until 22 October, including Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, 3 October