Lauren Thomas
5th Jun 2016

Winner of an Offie Award for Best New Play in London and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play in New York, Nina Raine's Tribes is a hilarious new performance in Sydney which follows the lives of a dysfunctional and wacky Jewish family consisting of parents Christopher and Beth and their children Daniel, Ruth and Billy.

A mixture of black comedy and drama, this play showcases real issues and relatable family dynamics in a comedic way, whilst also elucidating the struggles and emotional pitfalls that are experienced by those with a handicap and the effect it has on their quality of life, families and loved ones. Entertaining and upbeat whilst still maintaining truth, Tribes will make you laugh while presenting real and familiar issues, from break ups, mental illness, sibling rivalry to the pressure we have to succeed and the effects it has on our self esteem.

Tribes, just like the name suggests, depicts the social division in which the family and the youngest son Billy (Luke Watts) gets introduced to when he joins a deaf community group with his new girlfriend who is also deaf, Sylvia (Ana Maria Belo). After watching a documentary on a deaf couple who desired to have a child who was also deaf, Nina was inspired to write this play when it occurred to her that a family was a tribe, whose members wanted to pass on values, beliefs and language to their children.

Billy's way of thinking about his disability and how he believes his family needs to adapt to his situation is presented in a creative and artistic way. Watts brings an authentic performance to the role of Billy as he takes the audience on an empathetic journey during the second half of the play where he communicates via sign language to his family - just as engaging as speaking aloud. Watts who was born deaf and learnt sign language at 14 years of age produces a truthful performance.

While the comedic leanings and tongue-in-cheek one-liners of Tribes are uplifting and very entertaining, it also raises awareness about the emotional hardships that are faced when dealing with a disability. Watching Sylvia (Belo) as she struggles to come to terms that she is losing her hearing reminds you to appreciate what you do have. Belo masters an authentic performance that will make you feel empathy and understanding. NIDA Graduate and a regular in the theatre, Belo is fluent in sign language and showcases tremendous inner dialogue.

The play, which is primarily based around the kitchen table, brings an experience that makes you feel like you are a guest at their family dinner. The situation is painfully awkward when the family meet Billy's new girlfriend Sylvia over a home cooked meal, as you watch Christopher (Sean O'Shea) make Sylvia incredibly uncomfortable. O'Shea showcases a wonderful and engaging performance which will delight and shock you with his offensive one liners including "It's like being f*cked in the face by a crab" and "Her mind is like a plastic bag flapping out of a car window."

O'Shea is effortlessly captivating whilst his experience and passion for the arts is transparent in his wonderful performance as the family patriarch. Charismatic, engaging and entertaining to say the least, O'Shea is a joy to watch and will have you in fits of laughter throughout the entire play. Alongside him, Genevieve Lemon as mother Beth, with her extensive experience in theatre, film and television, is wonderful. You can't help but warm to her as she moves into the role of mum with ease with wit, warmth and subtle comedic choices. Lemon has you believing that this is her real husband and children and has a natural ability to create rapport with the audience.

Siblings Daniel (Garth Holcombe) and Ruth (Amber McMahon) create lots of giggles and comedy through their sibling rivalry and talented choices as performers. McMahon taps into Ruth and her sarcastic humour perfectly and has a great talent for comedic timing. It's hard not to enjoy her personal saga as Ruth light heartedly struggles to come to terms with living back at home and wondering why she is still single. Holcombe too provides a shockingly truthful performance as a troubled man who faces addiction, mental illness and an undeniably believable stammer towards the end of the performance.

Tribes is a well thought out and constructed play and promises to delight and entertain while reassuring you that your family is in fact, normal after all.

Tribes is on at Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli until Saturday July 2. See the Sydney Scoop calendar for performance times and prices.

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