The Tribe

A backyard near Belvoir St Theatre, January 20


Hazem Shammas in The Tribe. Photo: Catherine Cranston

In the theatre program for The Tribe, Michael Mohammed Ahmad writes: “This is my attempt to counteract the limited and simplistic representation that the Arab-Australian Muslim communities of Western Sydney have received to date, and to offer a broader, more intimate understanding. It is also an act of self-determination – a declaration of the right to reclaim and tell our own stories in our own way.”

Performed by Hazem Shammas and accompanied by Oonagh Sherrard on cello and a few percussion instruments, The Tribe is a beguiling piece of storytelling, staged in a Surry Hills backyard where the audience sits on an assortment of picnic rugs, milk crates and chairs.

The performance I saw was staged at a home just across the road from the theatre. There are three different venues, with the furthest one a 10-minute walk away.

Adapted from Ahmad’s novel of the same name by Ahmad and Janice Muller, and directed by Muller, The Tribe is told by Bani, a young boy living in Sydney with his extended Shiite Muslim family who fled Lebanon. He takes us into his family home and school, conjuring vivid little pictures of his relations and friends, particularly his beloved grandmother to whom he is extremely close.

The production, from Urban Theatre Projects, premiered at last year’s Sydney Festival and is now presented by Belvoir.

Shammas is a mesmerising storyteller, sliding effortlessly between different characters and voices. Sherrard’s music, with Arabic influences, underscores the performance beautifully, while delightful little interactions between her and Shammas’s storytelling add to the understated humour.

The Tribe feels like an intimate yarn, offering an authentic glimpse into a family and a culture: a genuine slice of life delivered with real love.

The Tribe plays until February 7. Bookings: or 02 9699 3444

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