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People of the Eye review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘warmly performed’

People of the Eye Erin Siobhan Hutching and Emily Howlett in People of the Eye at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge/Photographise

A home movie plays in the background, silently. People of the Eye, by the Deaf and Hearing Ensemble, tells the story of two sisters, one deaf, one hearing. The piece is – and feels as if it is – semi-autobiographical in nature. Written and performed by Erin Siobhan Hutching, it takes the form of a series of episodes in the life of a family, from the birth of their daughter, through to the discovery of her deafness. It shows doctors discouraging the parents from teaching their child to sign because, they say, it will hinder her speech development, the ways the sisters’ cope at school, and the private language they create for themselves.

These episodes are related via creative captions, speech and sign and warmly performed by Hutching and Emily Howlett. The visual and the auditory have equal weight here. There is audience participation in the form of a signing class, the captions are interspersed with bursts of 8-bit video game imagery and home movie footage of two children playing, and the sound design is intentionally abrasive, shrill and disorientating.

Part of the Northern Stage programme at Summerhall, this is an empathetic piece that conveys a sense of an experience lived and encourages its audience to think about the sensory and the different ways in which people communicate. But the different elements don’t quite knit together, and the production as a whole lacks thrust and a sense of completeness – it moves in waves, it tapers away.

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Thoughtful if episodic piece that opens a window onto the deaf world