Ensemble Theatre TribesA runaway hit both in London and off-Broadway, Nina Raine’s Tribes hones in on our universal desire to belong and to be heard with startling humour and biting accuracy, in a Sydney Premiere at the Ensemble Theatre from 26 May 2016.

Meet Billy: he was born deaf, but has grown up lip-reading in the midst of his fiercely intelligent and unconventional Jewish family. Meet Sylvia: she was born to deaf parents and is gradually losing her own hearing. As Sylvia teaches Billy sign language, their worlds begin to align just as Billy’s family grapple awkwardly with his new-found independence.

In her debut production for Ensemble Theatre, director Susanna Dowling went through an extensive audition process to cast the roles of Billy and his family. She travelled to the UK to meet with playwright Nina Raines who, in all the productions of Tribes around the world, insists on a deaf actor playing the central role of Billy.

Susanna cast Luke Watts, a deaf actor who played the role of Billy in the MTC production 4 years ago. Watts is profoundly deaf and started wearing hearing aids from the age of 7 – and was taught to speak and lipread, and only learned sign language as an adult, just like his character Billy.

In a case of life imitating art, Ana Maria Belo plays Sylvia, an actress who has been losing her hearing since the age of 14, just like her character Sylvia. Rounding out the cast is Genevieve Lemon who plays Billy’s mum Beth, Sean O’Shea plays his dad Christopher, while Amber McMahon plays his sister Ruth and Garth Holcombe plays his brother Daniel.

The characters in Tribes are scathing and antagonistic – although the arguing in Tribes is seen as proof of love,” said playwright Nina Raine. “The irony is that I don’t like conflict at all.  I’m quite a coward: I’ll do anything to avoid an argument.”

First produced in 2010 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, Tribes was the recipient of numerous awards including: Drama Desk Award For Outstanding Play (2012), New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award (2012), and the Off-Broadway Alliance Award For Best Play (2012). It also received nominations for The Olivier and Evening Standard Awards for Best New Play.

“Raine’s tribal instinct breaks down the language barriers. It’s the best-written, best-plotted, deepest, most daring – and funniest – new play in recent years.” – The Wall Street Journal

Director: Susanna Dowling Featuring: Ana Maria Belo, Garth Holcombe, Genevieve Lemon, Amber McMahon, Sean O’Shea, Luke Watts Designer: Rita Carmody Lighting Designer: Benjamin Brockman Sound Designer: Jeremy Silver Audio Visual Designer: Tim Hope Wardrobe: Alana Canceri Sign Language Consultant: Anna Hruby Assistant Director: Janine Watson

Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall St, Kirribilli (North Sydney)
Season: 1 June – 2 July 2016 (previews: 26 – 31 May)
Bookings: 02 9929 0644 or online at:

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: courtesy of Ensemble Theatre