People of the Eye

Thu 18th – Sat 27th August 2016


Zoe Bowman

at 15:51 on 24th Aug 2016



Upon entering Erin Siobhan Hutching's production of 'People of the Eye', I had no idea what to expect. Upon leaving, I was extremely grateful to have witnessed such a refreshing and insightful piece of theatre. This piece, put together with the help of the Deaf & Hearing Ensemble and directed by Jennifer Bates, follows the story of the a family of four who find out that their eldest daughter has a severe hearing impairment. 'People of the Eye' is a triumph, boldly defying convention in a way that is interactive and enjoyable for a multitude of audiences.

Throughout the production, we learn about the struggles faced by Hutching's family; from the diagnosis to the school bullies, and from unhelpful doctors to new forms of education. However, the performance is kept light by Howlett's shining personality. The highlight of the show occurs when Howlett, as 'Lisa' the sign language coach, gives the audience a cheery lesson. There are a mix of abilities in the audience, but it is interesting that Howlett does not use spoken word in her lesson. For someone with very little experience, such as myself, this reinforces how daunting it is when the roles are reversed, enlightening the audience on the issues that those with hearing impairments face.

The refreshing thing about this production is that it is very accessible; where there is speech, for the most part there are subtitles or it is simultaneously signed. What makes it more impressive is that sometimes the signing takes precedent over spoken word, and the format of the subtitles is changed to communicate emphasis that would have been present in spoken word. The audience are made to look at theatre in an entirely new and engaging way.

The dynamic between Hutching and Howlett makes for an even more enjoyable performance. Had I not been informed otherwise, the undeniable chemistry between the two would have one believe they were actually related. Siblings or not, they appear to connect on an emotional level; a feeling which adds an extra dimension to the performance.

Overall, 'People of the Eye' brings together touching family stories and beautiful choreography in an immensely creative way. Both audio and visual aspects are used commendably to create a thought-provoking performance from a cast and production team whose passion for 'People of the Eye' is evident. The icing on the cake? A cameo appearance from George, Howlett's adorable hearing dog.


Hannah Congdon

at 17:25 on 24th Aug 2016



‘People of the Eye’ is a beautifully tender tale of two sisters growing up together, the elder with a severe hearing impairment from birth. It exposes the difficulties and delights of language and communication, with the narrative unfolding via an all-consuming compilation of sound, screen, light, mime, sign and, occasionally, speech.

Based on the childhood of the playwright and actress herself, Erin Siobhan-Hutching, the play feels all the more poignant, with videos of the two girls as children playing in the background, before the very same scenes are re-enacted on stage using the adult actors.

Siobhan-Hutching’s acting is not quite as sensitive as her writing, and she is much better performing as herself with her sister than taking on the role of her mother, when she becomes a little saccharine. But it hardly matters – the play feels refreshingly organic precisely because it does not concern itself with polished lines and try-hard performances. In fact, the audience become so involved with the characters of the play that it feels less like a performance and more like a surreal documentary that you’re experiencing alongside the characters.

When Emily Howlett shifts, for instance, from her role as the elder sister to the hilariously patronising sign-language teacher Lisa, the audience is placed in the quite alienating position of being completely cut off from the language being used. The elasticity of Howlett’s facial expressions is superb, as she silently smirks and sniggers at the exasperated mother who attempts, rather hopelessly, to master sign-language. But the audience, too, is encouraged to participate, and around me a murmur of embarrassed laughter breaks out as individuals blunderingly have a go at the really quite basic signs which I am equally flummoxed by.

Here, director Jennifer Bates, explores the line between sympathy and empathy; the audience do not simply watch passively, they begin to understand the feeling of disconnect when you’re outside of the conversation, outside even of the language being used. It is a moment of blunt realisation for me, purposefully but not aggressively pointed out by the show, that the ability to communicate can be so easily taken for granted when the interaction includes you.


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