TRIBE

Mon 7th – Sat 12th August 2017

reviews

Ruby Gilding

at 18:50 on 12th Aug 2017

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‘TRIBE’ is the urban jungle brought devastatingly to life. Temper Theatre has returned to the Fringe with their trademark commitment to telling environmental narratives that are at once compelling and startling. Temper “unleash a world between worlds” as suits and office politics are spliced together with nature and ancestral heritage. The subsequent performance transports not only its office worker protagonist, but its audience too.

Undeniably, Temper Theatre have mastered their own brand of physical theatre. The movement of the piece is entrancing; with images layered upon one another to great effect. The dynamism of the performer’s physicality is also impressive, at times they are beautifully tender – particularly when moving in pairs. Elsewhere, the sense of the grotesque is overwhelming. In the high energy clubbing scene the dancers make for sickening viewing as they twist and turn, their faces leering out of the dark. In these ensemble sequences the dancers are not all synchronised, but this lack of harmony between the figures is perfectly imperfect for a show concerned with broken communities.

‘TRIBE’ is informed by a rich multidisciplinary approach; one in which soundscapes are successfully incorporated into a fusion of dance and physical theatre. The result can only be described as cinematic in its scope. The bare stage slickly transitions from office to nightclub to rainforest in a testimony to Dom Gowland’s stunning sound design. The thudding bass line of ‘London Calling,’ usually so empowering, is instead a sickening paean to excess. Broken snatches of conversation soundtrack the performance; this worked particularly well in the nightmarish opening scene when the cry of “Brexit!” cuts through the tumult. In contrast, intermittent bird song and the soft patter of rain evoke a rainforest and quell the show’s rising fever pitch. The lighting design was inventive, and executed onstage in the form of handheld lights in a palette of white, dusky pink, and brick red. These lights were manipulated by the troupe to artfully recall street lights or a new born baby.

It is telling that the audience capacity was nearly full for ‘TRIBE;’ the reputation of Temper Theatre precedes them. However, I felt disappointed in this performance as what I had expected to be impactful, emotive theatre was undermined by its own plot. The skulking figure of the ‘tribal person’ was underdeveloped, and the representation of an entire indigenous tribe by a single, nuclear family was tokenistic to say the least. Similarly, the closing sequence in which the dancers run in a circle, arms aloft, felt like a simplistic imitation of complex tribal rituals. The performance also strayed into cliché; the use of blindfolds for all but the enlightened protagonist was painfully obvious for such a talented company. There were, however, many arresting images that made up this unnerving show and ‘TRIBE’ was redeemed by its unique approach to physical theatre; a feat not to be overlooked given how strong this category is at this year’s Fringe.

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Eloise Heath

at 18:55 on 12th Aug 2017

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The physicality of Temper Theatre is near unparalleled, and this is precisely what makes ‘TRIBE’ so frustrating. Despite the evident talent of these performers, the narrative is unclear and the imagery, at times, veers into cliché. Ultimately ‘TRIBE’ feels fractured and a little uncomfortable but not, I suspect, in the way intended.

Upon entry to the ZOO at Southside, the starkness of the performance space is striking. A bare black stage, criss-crossed by beams of orange and blueish light. Throughout the lighting design is outstanding, creating an arresting aesthetic even in the sparseness of the space. The choreography and movement is similarly effective, energised and expressive to a truly impressive degree. Every sequence is executed with technique and feeling, by the entire ensemble.

So yes, this is a visually stunning piece. Yet crucially, despite the stunning visuals, some of the imagery falls flat. The cast, at one point, dance in blindfolds, seemingly to represent their figurative ‘blindness’, the obfuscatory effect of working in a western corporate environment. At other junctures the literal stripping off of business attire demonstrates a figurative stripping away of oppressive corporate life. If not outright cliché, then at least a little on the nose. Some similar moments are much more effective, such as when the lead struggles to tear off a high vis vest, implicating him as it does in the narrative of deforestation we have seen unfold. Such imagery, when deployed with a slightly lighter touch, is beautiful.

The issues continue in the composition of the ‘TRIBE’. In the opening sequence a woman lies on a bed; she tosses and turns, garbled snippets of news stories blaring overhead, the word ‘Brexit’ one of the only audible over the cacophony. This is, unfortunately, a completely token gesture towards updating the show, originally performed some years earlier. A great deal of the material feels recycled between ‘TRIBE’ and the stunning ‘Terra Incognita’, brought to the Fringe by Temper Theatre in 2016. The concept is similar, the main framework retained, and a number of set pieces repeated. If I’m being kind, I would call it a variation on a theme. If I’m honest, I was disappointed to see so much of their work reused.

There are other small niggles: personally, I could have done without a significant portion of the anguished shrieking, for instance, and the ghoulish makeup was a little overdone for my taste. These small flaws accumulate to make ‘TRIBE’ very frustrating. Much of the design is beautiful, and the execution committed and polished. However, its merits are undermined by a lack of subtlety and undercut by previous productions. Whilst stirring in its own way, ‘TRIBE’ is a mildly disappointing offering from such an accomplished company.

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