The Substation Presents THE TRIBE

A personal and beautiful story-telling experience

By Christine Young

The Tribe is perhaps what the world needs right now. At the very least, in a time of heightened Islamophobia, racism and bigoted politics, it’s what’s missing from public life: the voices and stories of Arab immigrant families.

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This reviewer jumped at the chance to attend the opening night of The Tribe which is based on Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s novel of the same name, and presented by The Substation theatre company and Urban Theatre Projects. The play is a series of monologues/memories told by an adult Bani but through the eyes of his child self at ages five, seven and eleven. It was adapted for the stage by author Ahmad and Janice Muller who also directed solo actor Hazem Shammas.

Bani belongs to the first generation of his big Lebanese family born in Australia with whom he lives on Caitlin Street in Lakemba. Lakemba is a suburb 15km south-west of Sydney’s CBD and well-known as a hub for Lebanese Muslim Australians. As Bani tells us, the Caitlin Street residents are overwhelmingly Muslim and living there carries a certain credibility. When the most rebellious kid in his class, Omar, finds out they live opposite each other, he decides they are best mates on the spot. Neither child knows anything about Omar being a Sunni Muslim and Bani being an Ahmadi Muslim which would have ruled out a friendship in Lebanon.

Bani’s stories from 1980s Lakemba centre on the family’s matriarch Taytar (grandmother). These stories also reach beyond Lakemba and back to a Lebanon that Bani has never known. Shammas renders beautiful the poignant and moving anecdotes from Bani’s childhood. Every time Bani utters ‘Taytar’, his voice changes and it’s said in a gentle tone of affection and respect.

Hazem Shammas is joined on stage by composer Oonagh Sherrard on cello which is aptly matched to the emotion and life of the storytelling. My seat was remarkably close to Sherrard which gave me a unique chance to watch the beauty and dexterity of cello-playing up close.

For the Melbourne season, The Substation in Newport has arranged for the play to be performed at homes in the area. The audience meets at The Substation and is taken, by foot, to the previously undisclosed location, and experiencing The Tribe is all the more special because it’s performed in the privacy and intimacy of a volunteer family’s backyard.

The Tribe was performed on March 30, 31 and April 1 2017 in Newport, Melbourne.

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