EUTCo’s penultimate offering for the academic year gave the audience a treat from the moment the elaborately decorated set came to life. The dramatic music and opening lines set the pace and mood for this funny and heart-warming show.
Tribes follows Billy, a young man deaf from birth and his hearing family who haven’t bothered to learn sign language. When he meets Sylvia, a woman going deaf, he finds that perhaps his deafness isn’t a complete hindrance. She just has to face his family and all their quirks.
The cast were fantastic in their delicate but strong portrayals of the dysfunctional family. Henry Cox brought a quiet and unassuming gentleness to the role of Billy, the character’s speech problems not stopping him from speaking with perfect coherence and using his expressions more than his voice to say what he wanted. Hannah Bloom’s quiet confidence as Sylvia and her use of sign language to communicate brought a new dynamic to critical scenes in the second act where she translates for Billy who isn’t speaking. It was impressive to note that the pace did not drop in these moments as the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ was exemplified.
The show’s more intense scenes were softened by the eccentricities of the rest of the family who provided comic relief in the face of well-timed awkward pauses. Many scenes were often cleverly punctuated by the loud arguments of Aidan Cheng’s Christopher, who carefully trod the fine line between rude and offensive language, and Brontë Bannatyne’s Beth, whose motherly instincts seemed to hold the family together. Daniel Heathcote and Beth Watson also provided entertainment through their rivalry as Billy’s older siblings. However it was the relationship between Daniel, played by Heathcote, and Billy that carried the familial relationships throughout the play. Heathcote played the stammer and voices that plagued his character to perfection and it created the first echoes of sympathy for a family member other than Billy from the audience.
Directors Eoin McAndrew and Isobel Knight did a sterling job in creating an atmosphere where the audience was taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and gave us a night of comedy and subtle thought-provoking moments. It isn’t every day you see a show that speaks on the difficulties of hearing loss and doesn’t give the happy ending the audience were perhaps hoping for. We all need those once in a while.
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