One of the highlights of October’s theatregoing for me was Nina Raine’s Tribes at the Royal Court, indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if it figures highly in my year-end chart too as a play which was extremely close to my heart and provoked a considerable emotional reaction in me for which I was ill-prepared. It has however stimulated much discussion and interesting developments for me and so when I was offered the chance to see it again from a most kind benefactor, I decided to revisit the play. I wasn’t too sure at first given just how emotional I got when I first saw it, but I was intrigued by the prospect of reassessing the play with a little perspective. Try as I might though, I struggled once again to separate the personal from the critical but that is the joy, for me at least, of the theatre, those moments when it transcends people just speaking words on the stage and becomes an all-encompassing, life-changing experience that will live with you for a long time.
You can read what I thought of it last time here; this is less of a review and more of a collection of thoughts and reflections. Some people have complained that not enough ‘happens’ in the show, but this for me is one of its strengths. In avoiding attaching the deaf ‘issue’ to a larger storyline as a subsidiary plot-point and placing it at the heart of the play, it allows for an intelligent portrayal of the deaf experience at its simplest and most affecting, in the heart of the family home. It is able to illustrate so much more by focusing on the seemingly mundane as opposed to a hugely dramatic sequence of events and therein lies its power: its depiction of a thoroughly realistic and relatable world is why it affected me and countless others so much.
Performance-wise, I thought all the actors remained excellent across the board, I do kind of wish that Phoebe Waller-Bridge had more to do with her character and I remain convinced that Michelle Terry is one of the finest actresses we have, but I saw more subtleties in Casselden’s work this time in his resigned acceptance of the family life that happens around him without engaging him and the ways in which his frustrations slowly bubble to the top are wonderfully observed: I look forward to seeing what he does next on the stage and I imagine I’ll be making the effort to see it wherever it is.
Part of me wishes that this, rather than Clybourne Park, was the show that was receiving the transfer into the West End to reach a wider audience as I really do feel like Tribes is one of the most revelatory pieces of work about the everyday lives of deaf and hard of hearing people and the decisions they, we, have to make in order to live the lives we’ve chosen. If not a transfer, then a recording of the show would be an extremely valuable resource. It is probably too much to hope that seeing this play would change the way people see and communicate with deaf people and open them to a more sensitive approach, indeed the conversations I’ve had in discussing this play with others have been quite amusing: I’ve frequently had people say to me ‘But you’re not really that deaf are you’ and ‘Why bother going to the theatre if you can’t hear it” was a particularly nice one, stigmas and misunderstandings about deaf people still persist sadly. It still amuses me to this day that I got extra time in both my GCSEs and A-levels exams as a ‘disabled’ person, I recently found out I cannot serve as a juror and no matter how many times you tell people, if I don’t hear you first time, shouting it doesn’t really help things.
Still, at least this corner of Sloane Square, thanks to the incredible efforts of Nina Raine and the whole production team, has had a real insight into what is a very personal experience for so many deaf and hard of hearing people and I am incredibly grateful for the chance to have been a small part of it (and for the opportunity to see it again, xx).