People of the Eye, the new performance from The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble, should come with a warning. Caution: this show may cause you to see things from another perspective.
It’s an autobiographical journey that navigates the lives of two sisters, one deaf, one hearing, inspired by writer and performer Erin Siobhan Hutching’s family, as they adjusted to life with the first deaf person they had ever met.
Emily Howlett joins Hutching on stage to play the deaf sister. As with so many parts of the performance devised by Erin and the Ensemble, we see her skilfully put her own experiences and memories into the role, which in turn echo the experiences of the whole collective.
Like a time machine moving through the girls’ lives, the show captures the joy of childhood whilst also laying bare the pain of being a child who is different. The show playfully moves between scenes on a pared-down set, using dreamy, avant-garde sequences to join the real world moments – complete with audience participation – together.
An early scene sees Hutching and Howlett play the parents as they try to communicate with their deaf little girl. The audience sit in silence whilst they mouth and gesticulate wildly, and as you come away from your comfort zone, you begin to understand some of the frustration all families in their position must feel.
A bittersweet scene in which Hutching plays the girls’ mother beautifully shows the inner conflict of a parent who wants everything for her daughter, but loves her as she is.
As with all the Ensemble’s performances, it’s designed to be shared by deaf and hearing audiences. Sign and captioning are used along with spoken English. The projections are creative and fun, and there’s a synergy between them and the rest of the set; never too much, never added without thought at the end, always very much part of the show.
People of the Eye does not shy away from the tough experiences of growing up – deaf or hearing. However, the show is a far cry from being all doom and gloom. It’s a celebration of life, deaf culture, love and family, with plenty of laughs to boot.
Running until June 11 at The Yard – a hidden gem of a theatre exuding “shabby chic,” tucked away in graffiti-laden Hackney Wick – it is the Ensemble’s first full-scale production of it’s kind, and will make its way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.