Tribes & Tribulations

Luch Caise-Dearg , Phonic FM

TribesThirty years ago and one hundred miles away a convoy of the disenchanted and the dispossessed are heading for “The Rising Sun” – a free festival in the valleys of South Wales. A local greaser gang, actually called “The Dispossessed”, provides the security – and the illicit intoxicants.

When a local lad inadvertently gets caught up in their machinations, and his over-enthusiastic younger sister becomes involved too, fear and tension overtake the festival love-in.

Substance and Shadow regular Mike Gilpin is that ill-fated youth from the valleys (Sammy) and Becky Rich is his mis-mentored sibling (Georgie). Their almost child-like relationship is forced up a gear by the appearance of the bike-gang leader’s moll (Cara) played by Rachel Milne. Finally, joining the action as if from nowhere, Midge Mullin is the unlikely hero of the tale (Crumb).

Behind the scenes Rosie Mullin executes a faultless lighting sequence, while Samantha Taylor is also in command of the off-stage sound effects. Between them, they create the impression of many scenes and many more characters. The play is in one act of seventy five minutes, during which Rosie and Samantha never miss a beat.

In the wings, Midge Mullin and Mike Gilpin provide the voices of the bikers, and Midge is also responsible for the innocuous tones of the local milk-man on his rounds. Midge also manages to create out of thin air an entire band of travelling festival-goers, who he appears to see standing among the audience.

Sammy’s incompetence and Georgie’s vulnerability generate a sense of uncertainty and fear even before the introduction of violent criminals into the equation. As the one member of the underground element we meet, Cara is terrifying – much bigger than Georgie and physically very threatening. Rachel Milne’s portrayal makes this leather-clad amazon seem almost twice as tall as Georgie. As adversary, and occasionally potential protector, Cara is a very dominant presence on the stage.

Crumb is a masterpiece of creation by Midge Mullin. Presenting himself as a Glaswegian shipworker, cut adrift by the decimation of the shipbuilding industry, Crumb seems out of place wandering the country with his dog Warp (also provided electronically by Samantha Taylor). He seems to be very close to the many members of his ‘tribe’, but keeps himself to himself once they arrive at the festival. Perhaps he is not quite what he seems.

With this new production, Substance and Shadow Theatre maintain the high standard of drama evident in their previous works. It seems that Midge and Rosie Mullin, and all the team members, work tirelessly in every spare hour, to ensure a steady stream of impressive plays. Classic writing, like Pinter’s “Dumb Waiter” and Brenton’s “Christie in Love“, have benefited from the Substance and Shadow treatment, while their own home-spun yarns, such as “Skin Deep” and “Duplicity“, can be relied on to take an audience on a unique voyage into the unexpected.

Tonight’s performance at the Blackmore was a world première – to be repeated at the same venue on Thursday. In June the show will come to Exeter, and then move to Bristol. Regular followers of this ideosyncratic Exeter phenomenon will not be disappointed by their latest foray into the confused cultural history of twentieth century Britain.

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