Edinburgh Fringe 2019
The Edinburgh Fringe debut of Joyce Dunbar (writer) and illustrator Jane Ray’s popular children’s book Moonbird devised and performed by Deaf and hearing actors for Deaf and hearing families
Orla is a cheeky baby, only son of the King and Queen. Doting parents they cannot understand why he doesn’t respond to games of peeka-boo, or, when he is older, his name. No expense is spared in securing the services of even the most crack pot doctors to find a cure, to bring the little prince into the hearing world. What Orla wants to do most is play in the world he understands, of pretty floating bubbles and the kind attentive Moonbird. Frustrated and angry he follows his new companion to the moon garden and he, and we, learn from the friendly creatures he finds there that there are different ways of making yourself understood and heard.
Moonbird the children’s book was published in 2006 by author Joyce Dunbar and both the text and detailed magical illustrations by Jane Ray have captured imaginations since then, as well as being a welcome resource for parents and carers of d/Deaf and hard of hearing children. Handprint Theatre have been inspired by the illustrations in bringing to life this story of exclusion and enlightenment, even the patterns on the costumes and the moon garden lizard would be recognised by children who treasure the book. The faithful rendition of the original story does not always work as it is a little whimsical and tad overlong for a young audience. Cutting to the chase in both the narration and the sub-titles would help this production, as would some more upbeat musical numbers; parts of the current soundtrack could lull some older members of the audience into a pleasant mid-morning snooze.
Where Handprint score is their talented cast of deaf and hearing performers and intelligent and creative access initiatives. Sign language, captioning, clear characterisation, colourful costumes and skilled puppetry all add to the depth of this production for both deaf and hearing audiences. Some children will recognise deaf performer Nadeem Islam from TV’s Magic Hands, playing Orla. He gives a cheery and engaging portrayal of the hurt little boy whose strength of character enables him to learn sign language from a trio of monkeys played by the other three actors in the company, who with quick costume changes and deft physicality also bring us a grieving Queen and quack doctor (Marian Hoddy), stern King and delicate moon garden lizard (William Grint) and beautiful voiced narrator and moon bird puppeteer (Laura Goulden). Hoddy also co-designed the costumes.
The company are pleased to have worked with illustrator David Elmer who has introduced animated signing hands projected onto the set which help us learn words like ‘sharing’, ‘confidence’ and rather sadly ‘broken hearted’. Although the is a play with a strong message for our times this is handled with a light touch and the school-aged children in the audience were engrossed from start to finish. “Why don’t we all learn signing at school” was one comment left by a young reviewer. Well quite.