Tribe (London Theatre Workshop)

Posted: June 23, 2017 in Theatre


This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

Few traditions originating from Edwardian England can still survive more than a century later without having undergone fundamental change. This new play, set in 2012, by Brandon Force, Matthew McCray and Rowena Russell examines how necessary change, difficult and painful, has been brought about in the Scout movement, founded by Lord Robert Baden-Powell (referred to as “B-P”) in 1908. The play also asks urgent questions about social change (and the need for it) that have significance beyond its immediate concerns.

The writers could easily have set out to ridicule what now seems to many like an archaic movement, but there is little of that. Instead, they deconstruct a deep-rooted culture in order to expose elements that are incongruous to the 21st Century. Robert J Clayton appears at intervals as B-P, explaining core principles of Scouting that derive from a Zulu coming-of-age custom and he is also Scott, a traditionalist who leads a modern Scout group. His second-in-command is health and safety conscious Finn (Marcus Churchill), a reformer.

Christianity was one of the pillars of B-P’s all-male movement, but now other faiths and females must be included. At a weekend camp in woodland, Scott’s four boy group is introduced to new members – tomboyish Julie (Georgia Maskery) and reticent Amira (Shelana Serafina), who is wearing her Moslem headscarf. Colin (David Fenne) is senior among the boys, followed by Henry ( Nick Pearce), Simon (Aaron Phinehas Peters) and Scott’s son Charlie (Ross Virgo). The weekend is about “focus and discipline”, creating a competitive. macho environment which, effectively, legitimises bullying. For Colin, the price for failure in a task has to be paid in the form of self-flagellation.

Scott overrules Finn and sends the group out in darkness in competing pairs. Challenges include acting out scenes from Peter Pan, …Tom Sawyer and Star Wars, illustrating how much-loved cultural influences on young minds are at odds with diversity in modern society. “What would Bear Grylls do?” the panic-stricken youngsters ask repeatedly when facing danger and then, as the tribe begins to disintegrate, the fractures follow the racial, religious and gender fault lines inherent in traditions that are at odds with the modern world.

As director, McCray harnesses the energy of the young actors, who often chant ritually, to create the atmosphere of a cauldron in a half-lit set that resembles a forest clearing. The cast and creative team combine superbly in making a subject that could be thought of only marginal interest so absorbing. A three-fingered salute to them all.

Performance date: 22 June 2017

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