Edinburgh Fringe 2016
“Inspired by real events, this personal story follows a family finding their way through the Deaf world. A story about parents, about sisters, and about the complex love that binds families together.”
On an all white set comprising two TVs, stacks of cardboard boxes and paper with a huge screen on the back wall, a video plays showing home videos of a family with two young daughters. This is a story about two sisters, played by Erin Siobhan Hutching (who also wrote the play, which, according to the programme is devised by the Deaf & Hearing Ensemble) and Emily Howlett. The play is based on Hutching’s life and family including her sister Sarah.
As the narrator, sister and expectant mother, Hutching is naturalistic onstage. Hewlett plays several characters, too – she is also a BSL signer who is deaf and has wonderful comic timing.
The screen is effectively used to show scenery, video games and other images as well as family films, which is a nice way to make zippy transitions and bring the outside in.
Through narration, video, mime, games, captions and spoken scenes they act out and tell this story about parents and siblings when someone in the family is deaf. We also have an unexpected diversion from the story in the form of an introduction to sign language with audience participation, to experience what it feels like to sign and start from scratch with BSL. It’s funny, entertaining and daunting! Howlett comes into her own in these scenes where she has clownish fun teaching the audience – and then Hutching’s new mother character how to sign.
While well intentioned and important to share this moving topic, the play could benefit from some tweaks in structure and blocking. For example, in several scenes the actors sit on the floor, where it is very difficult to see what is happening unless sitting in the front row or two. Crafting wise several scenes linger too long and could be compressed. Finally, the humour, information and sentimental scenes are interesting but the balance to support the story could be reassessed.
Programme notes state that this is the first production the Ensemble has produced of this scale, therefore, this is a wonderful start – and their next production will undoubtedly benefit from this edfringe experience. This is a thoughtful, interesting play about a serious subject.