Signs point to new times for Tribes director Kate

Director Kate Hewitt and BSL interpreter David Hutchinson in rehearsals for Tribes at the Crucible Studio
Director Kate Hewitt and BSL interpreter David Hutchinson in rehearsals for Tribes at the Crucible Studio

Director Kate Hewitt has been learning a new way of working in a play involving two deaf actors and looking at family life for deaf people in a hearing world.

Kate described Nina Raines’ powerful play Tribes, which has its regional premiere at the Crucible Studio.

She said: “It’s very much about a deaf guy, Billy, in a hearing family and him falling in love with a woman going deaf.

“It’s about hearing and communicating and how much people do. Fundamentally, for me the play is about love and community,” she added.

“It feels like it’s about what happens when a child is different to their parents and that could be anything, really. That’s very rich territory for a play.

“How do you reconcile that? The word reproduction is so misleading; you don’t reproduce yourself, you create another human being. Children are not some extension or model of ourselves.”

The play can bring out a whole range of emotions in the audience, said Kate.

“It’s very funny and very much a drama. It makes me laugh out loud every time I’ve seen it in different places. It’s also very moving.”

Ironically, Billy’s family talk a lot but no-one’s really listening.

“It seems to be what happens when you’ve got supposedly incredible communication skills,” said Kate. “Too many words can hinder you from being able to communicate. It’s fast and funny.”

The team working on the play includes two British sign language interpreters. Actor Emily Howlett also has a support dog, George, to help her.

Kate said it had been a fascinating process, using different ways to communicate with the cast and company.

She said: “I had questions about how the process would be. If I would normally do something, would I do that with two company members who are deaf?

“It just made you even more aware of going at a pace that everyone in the room understands.”

She said she had a wealth of experience to call on as her assistant director, Jennifer K Bates, is co-founder and artistic director of the DH Ensemble, a theatre company for deaf and hearing actors.

Kate said: “I think it is a really brilliant play. Structurally, it’s very like Pinter. I think theatre lovers will enjoy it and it’s very funny from the outset.

“It will also appeal to young people from teenagers up and people who have a love of language as there’s so much fun around meanings of words and how you interpret things.

“I very much hope it appeals to the people of Sheffield and stands alongside the brilliant shows they’ve become accustomed to in that space.

“It will make you laugh, cry and have a really good argument! It’s a really entertaining piece and not pretentious.”

Kate said she’s really enjoyed working in Sheffield. “It’s just a really lovely, friendly place. Everyone’s connected to the Crucible.

“I had to go to hospital and the people there were talking about the Crucible. There’s a cultural engagement that’s so exciting. This is a great place.”

* Lots of the performances are audio described, captioned or signed. For more details, visit Sheffield Theatres

Tribes, Crucible Studio, On until July 22