Tribes – Gate Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review

Tribes – Gate Theatre – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review by Emily Elphinstone

Until 11th November
Part of the Dublin Theatre Festival

Following the spectacular The Great Gatsby was always going to be a difficult task; but luckily Selina Cartmell has made the wise decision to present something completely different for the second production at The Gate Theatre under her tenure. However, Tribes by Nina Raine; most certainly continues the season’s theme of ‘the outsider’. Tribes was written by Raine in 2010 and made its première in London’s Royal Court Theatre the same year. It went to win the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, along with a number of other awards. Raine is the only daughter of the poet Craig Raine and Ann Pasternak Slater.

Largely set around the dinner table, a classic image of family life; Tribes presents characters that are so realistically flawed, that it can be hard to watch; simultaneously hilarious and infuriating. With all three children again living at home, the atmosphere quickly becomes claustrophobic. As the only deaf person in a profoundly oralist (and constantly bickering) household; Billy is outside this; both alienated, and coddled. But when Billy (Alex Nowak) finds fresh life outside the home with a new girlfriend Sylvia (Claire Dunne) and a newfound sense of belonging in the deaf community; the family dynamic quickly shifts.

Expertly directed by Oonagh Murphy; Tribes is an increasingly compelling watch, raising some interesting questions not only about attitudes towards the deaf community; but also to the ‘outsider’ as a whole, in an increasingly fractured society. Discussion of sign language versus lip-reading, and how people choose to communicate, is highlighted beautifully by interludes of surtitles which can either translate what characters are deliberately saying, or how body language betrays their thoughts. These are communicated on layers of screens which are an integral part of the minimal set; whether representing shiny kitchen units, or projecting more evocative images.

Though the premise is a fascinating one, there were odd passages which felt slightly stilted, or predictable. However, the endlessly-watchable cast created heart-wrenching, and all too recognisable characters. There is a strong sense of ensemble; with the younger generation of Gavin Drea, Alex Nowak, Gráinne Keenan and Claire Dunne more than holding their own against the two Gate stalwarts of many years, Fiona Bell and Nick Dunning; in the endlessly shifting war of words and emotions.

Ultimately, it is particular scenes, and not the overall story which provide the most interest. And it is stunningly powerful moments (and the economically placed sound design by Ivan Birthistle) like girlfriend Sylvia playing a piano she can no longer hear for the family; which will stay with you long after.


Director…………………………Oonagh Murphy
Set & Costume Designer….Conor Murphy
Lighting Designer……………Mimi Jordan Sherin
Sound Designer………………Ivan Birthistle
Projection Design…………….Conan McIvor

Cast includes: Fiona Bell, Gavin Drea, Clare Dunne, Nick Dunning

Age guidance: 14+ (contains strong language)
Wednesday Matinee: Oct 11th – 2.30pm
Saturday Matinees: 2.30pm
Evenings: Mon to Sat – 7.30pm
Tickets: €25 – €38

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