Nina Raine's award-winning play comes to CambridgeNatalie Price

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Week four and it’s what we’ve all been missing; a full-blown family argument. From the opening sequence, Tribes explodes with a cacophony of noise, sarcasm, wit, energy and warmth. The play revolves around three siblings returning home after university, with their two frustrated and blunt parents. We are given a glimpse into the kind of dysfunctional middle-class family that we would love to go have dinner with – and then leave for our nice quiet houses. For most of the first half the audience were roaring with laughter at the antics of the family, and this is what made the second half and its slow exposure of the flaws and vulnerabilities of each member of the family so hard-hitting.

For Tribes is not just a portrayal of family dynamics, but an insight into living with disability, and living with those with disabilities. Billy, played by Mark Milligan, sits at the heart of the family, but distanced from it. He misses the punch-lines, he misses what we’re all laughing at, as the hullabaloo flies over his quiet bubble. His discussions with his girlfriend, Sylvia, who is going deaf, shed an insidious and revealing light on the differences and issues surrounding being deaf.

Simultaneously, we were left to draw parallels with Billy’s brother Daniel, played by Jonah Hauer-King. Daniel was ostensibly confident and sexy, fiercely brutal in his interactions with his sister. Then the layers were peeled back. There was a gorgeous moment when he couldn’t hear Billy because of the volume of the ‘voices’ in his head, and he struggled to talk, and the limitations of his mental turmoil suddenly became reminiscent of those of his brother. Hauer-King is a beautiful performer; we knew what his character was about to do just before he did it, by the pause in the middle of a line, or the direction of his gaze.

The rest of the cast were made-up of strong, funny characters. The group chemistry was so relaxed and smooth that it was hard to believe that they hadn’t spent years in each other’s company. The set was enveloping; shelves holding books and an eclectic mix of other objects were piled to the ceiling,  a fitting backdrop to the chaotic, intellectual scene in the house. The only aspect of the production which didn’t work was the placement and use of the subtitles screen, which was a good idea, but in reality created a distraction from the drama onstage and became confusing when used seemingly randomly with swift dialogue.  

Go to Tribes if you want to laugh, or to cry, or to just get out of your dark, dingy college room. If you are going to see one play at the ADC all term, this ticks every box. It’s informative, it’s thought-provoking, and most importantly it’s just really damn funny.

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