The Deaf & Hearing Ensemble formed in 2013 as a group of D/deaf and hearing theatre makers who come together to tell each other stories, to explore the performative nature and beauty of sign language and to pull together D/deaf and hearing audiences in a shared experience – breaking down barriers on stage and off. Review by Colin Hambrook
Devised and performed by Sophie Stone (star of Forest Forge's Woman of Flowers written by Kaite O'Reilly) People Of The Eye tells the story of two sisters, one Deaf and one Hearing.
I went to see a work-in-progress at the Roundhouse in Camden and was duly impressed by the potential of this play with its mix of British Sign Language, spoken English, sign mime, movement, music, soundscapes and projection.
It’s an ambitious piece, which is no bad thing, although the separate elements are still in need of being brought together into a cohesive whole. I loved the elements of the performance that played on the relationship between the sisters and told the struggle of a family to come to terms with the idea of perceived ‘normality’.
We see references to the sort of medical responses told to hearing parents of deaf children giving a snapshot of the kinds of discrimination handed out by medical authorities who see deafness as something to be cured rather than valued. And within the siblings rivalry we see elements of the freedom that being relieved of the idea of having to be ‘normal’ can confer.
As a piece of theatre People Of The Eye has the potential to convey with great humour and vivacity the dramaturgical strengths that BSL can bring to a piece of theatre. There are some cleverly delivered gags like the one about being ‘profoundly hearing’, and with Sophie’s ‘sister’ Erin Hutching as a foil, there is room for more comedy. The two actors bring a well-matched energy to the stage, playing off each others’ strengths.
However the cabaret-style elements within the piece could be better framed within a dramatic context. We find out the sister’s sign names early on and there could be more use of this as a device for establishing the sisters on-stage presence. I may be speaking out of turn here, but I wondered whether having the interaction with the audience later in the piece, rather than at the beginning, might further enhance the storytelling?
The use of visual projection brought the sisters’ relationship to life with clips of the two youngsters learning to communicate. The older sisters, responding on stage to their infant selves on screen, worked well in adding an affectionate touch and balancing the more frought aspects of their relationship. This element also helped to give a historical setting within the 70s/ 80s, and strengthened the framing of the piece as a whole.
I look forward to the development of People Of The Eye which is again being showcased as a work in progress in the Edinburgh Fringe.