Jess Kaufman on London Live talking about Mathilda and the Orange Balloon

Our international collaborator, writer and producer Jess Kaufman spoke to London Live about our project Mathilda and the Orange Balloon. Click here for full tour dates and booking details.

Watch the video here and read the transcript below:

  • [Jess] Mathilda is a little grey sheep in a little grey and green world. But her mind is full of questions. She’s constantly pestering the adult sheep asking “What is that?” “Why is that there?” “Why is the flower growing?” And one day an orange balloon makes a surprise appearance on her farm and wakes up something inside her that she didn’t even realize was there. And over the course of the story and the course of the show, Mathilda discovers that she can be anything she can imagine and that she’s not limited to the definitions of herself that other people offer her.

  • [Anthony] Yeah, you can see quite quickly what the real messages are within this piece.

  • [Jess] Absolutely.

  • [Anthony] And this is about making sure that young children, you know, aren’t put in positions. You know, girls can be nurses, boys can be doctors.

  • [Jess] Absolutely.

  • [Anthony] That kind of approach. Is that where the sheep ends? Her journey, does she realize, that actually, you know, life is full of options?

  • [Jess] Absolutely. Mathilda realizes that she can be a grey sheep. She can be an orange balloon. She can be a rocket ship or an astronaut or anything she can imagine. And she brings her entire herd and, in our play, the audience, on that journey with her.

  • [Anthony] The process of taking it from that book to a stage production, has that been quite difficult?

  • [Jess] No, not at all. My initial idea of transforming it into a stage play was met with absolute joy by the book’s author, Randall de Séve and the illustrator, Jen Corace, who’ve been very kind in securing the adaptation rights with me to create the story on stage. I approached The DH Ensemble about it a couple of years ago and they embraced the idea because it’s just perfect for their aesthetic.

  • [Anthony] That explains a little bit more about that theatre group because they do an awful lot of work to make sure that everyone who goes has the same experience.

  • [Jess] Absolutely. The DH Ensemble is a professional theatre company founded by Deaf and hearing professional artists who come together to make work that’s fully accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences. They work with a fully accessible rehearsal room and we include British Sign Language, spoken English, creative captions, projections, sound that can be felt in the body: all kinds of strategies to make the show aesthetically innovative and fully accessible to everyone who wants to see it.

  • [Anthony] When you’re working on a production which has to make sure that all those factors are involved, it’s added layers, isn’t it?

  • [Jess] Yeah.

  • [Anthony] I imagine that prep slows the process down to make sure you get it spot on, perfect for everyone.

  • [Jess] Absolutely. We’ve been very fortunate to have partnerships with Jackson’s Lane Theatre, and with Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre. And between them we’ve had a very generous rehearsal process of three weeks. We also did a fully funded R & D at Sheffield Theatre last year who gave us two weeks to really dig deep into the show with DH Ensemble company members Stephen Collins, Erin Hutching, and director Jennifer Bates to really make sure we got it just right.

  • [Anthony] Yeah we’re looking at some of the rehearsal pictures now. Who does Mathilda meet on the way? Who are the other characters?

  • [Jess] Ah. Well, Mathilda’s story is told for us by two narrators. You’ll see Mia and Adam here. They’re narrators. They’re clowns. They’re absolutely hilarious. And over the course of the show, as you can see in these photos, they take on the personalities of the other sheep in Mathilda’s herd.

Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair - Macbeth Research and Development at the National Theatre Studio

In October of this year we were privileged to work at the National Theatre Studio on our bilingual version of Macbeth, supported by the New Work department.

The challenging task involved translating sections of Shakespeare’s text into British Sign Language which was then both signed and spoken in performance, as well as having the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth double-cast with deaf and hearing actors. Our four actors fluidly moved between pairs, a quartet, four individuals or three against one, showing physically the inner turmoil and fracturing within these characters and their relationship with each other.

We were excited to share a short work-in-progress performance with an audience of invited guests. We hope to develop this into a full show in 2019/2020.

This project was funded by Arts Council England and supported by New Wolsey Theatre, National Theatre and Poplar Union.

The actors were Stephen Collins, Sophie Stone, Erin Siobhan Hutching and Oliver Alvin Wilson. Non-performing artists were Jennifer K. Bates, Ben Spiller, Brian Duffy, Rachel Sampley, Clare Edwards, Susan Booth. All images by David Monteith-Hodge.

Audience feedback:

“The best Macbeth I have ever seen” - Deaf actor Jean St Clair

“The switching around between the characters was wonderful and fluid. It was so great to see Deaf and hearing actors working well together rather than being quite separate. A wonderful ensemble ethos.” Stuart Allen, Senior Producer, Derby Theatre

Week One of Research & Development on Macbeth

In 2016, we were one of two finalists for the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award and we were awarded one week of research and development time at the Barbican looking at Macbeth using spoken and signed languages through the eyes of the central couple.

It’s finally the right time for us to return to this project for another research and development, this time one week at Poplar Union and New Wolsey and one week at the National Theatre Studio, supported by Arts Council England.

We have one Deaf and one hearing actor playing Macbeth and one Deaf and one hearing actor playing Lady Macbeth, and we are discovering exciting ways to use the four actors and two languages (signed and spoken) to delve deeply into the psychology of these characters and the fracturing within them. We’re particularly exploring grief, trauma, ambition and power.

Joining the cast this time around is Oliver Alvin-Wilson playing Macbeth alongside Stephen Collins. Erin Siobhan Hutching and Sophie Stone both return as Lady Macbeth, with support from Vilma Jackson who stepped in for Sophie for a few days this week while she was off filming for the BBC!

Jennifer K. Bates continues to direct, this time with support from Ben Spiller (dramaturg and the fountain of knowledge for all things Shakespearean), Brian Duffy (BSL consultant and genius at making things visual) and Rachel Sampley (our favourite long time collaborator, lighting designer and technical manager).

Many thanks to Poplar Union and New Wolsey for having us last week. Tomorrow we head to the National Theatre Studio!

Images by David Monteith-Hodge
Full gallery available to view here on Facebook

BBC World Service interview with Erin Siobhan Hutching & Hermon Berhane

BBC World Service's Weekend reporter Molly Guiness chatted to People of the Eye actors Erin Siobhan Hutching and Hermon Berhane in rehearsals for the show. The final performance this Spring is at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 7th April. 

Listen here (at 40 min 25 seconds in)

Audiogram of a short section of the interview


Written Transcript

Host: You’re listening to Weekend from the BBC World Service. It’s 5.46 GMT. Now when Erin Siobhan Hutching’s older sister Sarah was diagnosed as deaf, her parents were given conflicting advice about the best way to educate her. Well, now Erin has written a two-woman play based on her family’s experience. The play, People of the Eye, is partly performed in sign language. They are part of a theatre company called The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble and they are performing around the UK at the moment.

Weekend’s Molly Guiness went into one of their rehearsals.

Erin: This is a play called People of the Eye and it’s an autobiographical story based on my family’s experiences when my sister was born deaf. So, my parents were told not to use sign language, which was common advice which was given in the 80s and is still even given now, but fortunately they received other advice saying that sign language was something that they should try. So, the story that we’ve created mirrors their journey as they learnt about sign language and the Deaf world and Deaf culture, and how that informed my relationship with my sister.


(Section of the performance from rehearsal. Elizabeth – the mother – is played by Erin Hutching. Michael – the father – is played by Hermi Berhane)

Elizabeth (singing): The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain (sounding increasingly worried and getting louder and louder), the bear went over the MOUNTAINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN……..

Elizabeth: She really loves those dolls. She’s so engrossed in them.

Michael: Yes. So focused! Such a focused child.

Elizabeth: Well that’s good! You know, a good attention span!


Molly: This idea that learning sign language impinges your ability to speak, is that nonsense?

Erin: The reason for thinking that is that the time that is spent learning sign language could be focused on learning to speak. However, there have been many conflicting studies saying that children should have access to language as early as possible and actually the delay in access to language is really what affects children’s ability to access, you know, the world itself. So there’s a recent study that I was reading that was saying that most audiologists and doctors do agree that it is preferable for deaf children to have sign language and speech at an early age.



(Section of the performance from rehearsal. Elizabeth – the mother – is played by Erin Hutching. Michael – the father – is played by Hermi Berhane. The stage directions for radio are read by Jennifer Fletcher)

*Sound of hands clapping

*Sound of person coughing

Elizabeth: Hello sweetie. HELLO SWEETIE!

*Sound of glass breaking

Stage Directions: Michael and Elizabeth look behind them and then turn back to the child who has not reacted or moved at all.

Michael: (playfully) Daddy’s coming to get you!

A production shot from People of the Eye, photo credit David Monteith-Hodge

A production shot from People of the Eye, photo credit David Monteith-Hodge


Molly: Erin’s sister Sarah is played by Hermi Berhane, who also plays her father and a doctor and several other characters. On stage, as you’ve heard, she uses her voice but she felt more comfortable speaking to me through a sign language interpreter.

Hermi (through SLI): So I actually grew up as a hearing child and when I was 7 I became deaf. So first I was taught speech. There was a lot of focus on that. And I learnt sign language a lot later actually, when I was 12. And that’s really when I found my identity.

Molly: How did you lose your hearing?

Hermi: I don’t know. We never found out. It wasn’t just me. I have a twin sister and we both lost our hearing at the same time. And I have a little brother who is deaf as well.

Molly: So sign language between you and your siblings must be an incredibly important part of your lives and the way you communicate with each other and your relationship?

Hermi: So, my little brother didn’t bother too much with sign language. He went to a mainstream school. But me and my twin sister went to a Deaf Boarding School for 6 years. There was sign language there constantly and I really fitted in. I felt really, sort of, at home as if it was my second family when I was at boarding school. But when we’d go home on weekends we had to speak again and our mum said you’re not allowed to sign when you’re at home. So me and my sister felt very comfortable talking to each other in sign language and that was a natural way for us to communicate. And slowly over time we sort of showed my mother, “This is the Deaf community; these are my friends from school; this is why we sign”. And she actually came to see our performance People of the Eye and at the end I asked my mum, “Well, what do you think then?” And she said, “It was powerful and had a serious impact on me and I do understand why the two of you growing up were choosing, almost, the Deaf world over the hearing world as you got older”. And I said I know I can’t blame you because you didn’t know any better. And when she came to the play she started learning sign language for the first time!

Host: Molly Guiness speaking to Hermi Berhane through a sign language interpreter. And before that, you heard Erin Siobhan Hutching. I suppose what that illustrates is that we are constantly learning more, aren’t we, about how we educate people particularly in the field of those where there are communication disabilities. I wonder if you had any thoughts.

Guest 1 (Bruno): I thought it was very interesting, this idea that you would actually prefer to use sign language if you had a choice, if you only lost your hearing at age 7. Clearly, to me, this shows that there are many different worlds that we don’t have access to that sometimes can be just as wonderful, just as complex, as the world we know. I was listening to it and thinking, well maybe it should be thought also as a great adventure to enter this world of sign language, with its own rules, with its own ways of feeling, ways of thinking even which are different to this way of thinking that we are using now.

Host: Roni, what struck you as you heard it?

Guest 2 (Roni): How wonderfully impressive the sisters are, and how much the different worlds that they live in, as Bruno said, and how the signing was such a part of their identity, and the split between how they had to speak at home and yet sign at school. And I wondered about the transition between those two worlds and how that affected them.

Host: And the reaction of Mother, having been to see the production was rather interesting.

Roni: Yes.

Host: Having thought that it can only be done one way. Maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Roni: Yes.




Images from Freshly Scratched, in collaboration with Battersea Arts Centre

Earlier this year, we invited artists to apply to test out new ideas for exciting new work which is accessible to D/deaf, hard of hearing and hearing audiences. The sold out event in October was a rare and much needed opportunity for accessible work to be given an opportunity for early development and feedback.

The artists: Sarah Warren, Matthew Gurney & Adam Bassett, Rachael Merry, Sophie Woolley, Kevin Walker (SignKid), Ruth Montgomery. 

BBC Radio Oxford Interview & Transcript

Listen to our writer/performer Erin Siobhan Hutching do another radio interview for People of the Eye (TYPED TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW BELOW)

This time she talks to BBC Oxford's Kat Orman ahead of our show at Arts at the Old Fire Station tomorrow night, the last stop on this leg of the tour!

Interview starts at 1:07:00

Book tickets to People of the Eye:


Kat Orman: I love the theatre, however theatre isn’t always accessible for those who are deaf, or indeed hard of hearing. Writer and performer Erin Siobhan Hutching wants to change this. Unable to go to the theatre with her Deaf sister, she’s now written her own play that can be enjoyed by everyone and she’s here. Erin, good morning.

Erin: Good morning.

Kat: Nice to have you here. So, tell me a little bit about your sister, because she’s….is she older than you?

Erin: Yes, she is. So she’s three years older than me so by the time I was born she had been diagnosed as deaf although it did take a little while. My parents knew that there was something going on but they took her to the doctor many many times, took her to see the nurse, and they said no, no she’s fine, and then finally she was diagnosed at about 18 months. So by the time I came along, the family was learning sign language so I learnt it as a baby.

Kat: And this was in New Zealand?

Erin: Yes, in New Zealand, where I’m from originally.

Kat: So, what was life like growing up with a profoundly deaf sister?

Erin: I mean, I suppose, for me it just seemed “normal” – in inverted commas – because we talked about this when we were developing the play because children just think that what they experience is what everybody experiences. So, my family was bilingual, we communicated in spoken English and in sign language. I was constantly, from a very young age, being taken to speech therapy with my sister so I started to learn to speak at about ten months in full sentences which was very creepy I’m sure. (Both laugh) But I was just surrounded by it all the time so I suppose in a way it brought Sarah and I much closer together – Sarah is my sister – but also I sort of benefitted from the things she had to do like learn sign language, have speech therapy. And it drew us together. My mum tried to make it a game so that she wouldn’t feel left out and so that she wouldn’t feel like she had to be different so everything she did I had to do as well.

Kat: I suppose, even as her younger sibling you felt fiercely protective over her, because being profoundly deaf there are challenges in life.

Erin: Yeah, absolutely. I have another sister as well, a much older sister, she’s twelve years older than me, and we’re both – well I mean we’re all very protective of each other – but I do particularly remember a few incidents where Sarah might have been teased by kids on the street and my other sister Tracey and I very much stood up for her. And some of that has actually made it into the play!

Kat: Yeah, so we’ll talk about the play in a couple of moments’ time. But I’m fascinated to know actually not only how you decided to sort of come from New Zealand because I know that you had quite a fantastic buoyant career in film and television over in New Zealand but you came, you’re based in London right now.

Erin: Yes, I’m based in London, yeah that’s right.

Kat: So was acting something that you always wanted to do? I mean did you even think that you would be pursuing life as a playwright?

Erin: No, I mean I’ve always been very interested in writing and I’ve always done very well in English and things like that, but acting was always where my heart was, and I actually grew up between New Zealand and Singapore, and in Singapore started to pursue acting at secondary school. And then I moved to Australia after I’d finished drama school in New Zealand and that’s where I started working as an actor. Mostly always focused on theatre, that’s always been my first love, but really interested in film and TV as well.

Kat: Why did you feel actually that you would like to come to London and be based here because I’d imagine there’s a lot of work in New Zealand, there’s a lot of work in Australia.

Erin: I mean there is, but it is more difficult. To make a living as an actor in Melbourne where I was living, it’s much more difficult to get your day to day….

Kat: Unless you go into a long running soap like Neighbours…..

Erin: Exactly, yes. A lot of theatre work is unpaid, a lot of very good professional actors still have a day job and work in the evenings, unpaid work. And of course that happens here but to a lesser extent. There’s a lot more work here that you can get – you know, commercials and corporate work and theatre in education, there’s lots of things that can keep actors going that we don’t have so much of in New Zealand.

Kat: How did you feel though, leaving your sister, because ultimately you were going to pursue a life of acting, the thing that you wanted to do the most, but you were leaving your sister who you were incredibly close to.

Erin: I mean it’s very difficult leaving my whole family, I’m very close to all of them, but I guess that’s always been part of – maybe it’s something to do with the New Zealand ethos – we all travel and we like to live overseas. And my mum is actually Irish so she had done the opposite when she was about my age, she had gone to live in New Zealand. So yes, very difficult and I try and get home as much as I can but I mean Sarah’s very, she’s done incredibly well in her life, she’s very independent, she has a wonderful job and family so I knew that I wasn’t leaving her to be alone or anything like that.

Kat: So, with this idea, because I imagine it’s always been in the back of your mind, having a profoundly deaf sister, that there isn’t then the accessibility for a profoundly deaf person so go to the theatre, with their family, friends, loved ones etc and enjoy and have the same experience as a hearing person.

Erin: Yes, absolutely. And interestingly enough, it didn’t occur to me how much it should be happening until I moved over here because I think that Britain is a little bit ahead in that I had never seen an interpreted performance before I came over here. I had seen some captioned performances but I think the culture of that is a bit more advanced over here. So once I’d seen that there are a few companies making that sort of work it really hit home to me –

Kat: - but there are only a few –

Erin: - only a few, only a handful. I mean, it’s improving, it’s certainly improving because I know the Arts Council is really encouraging people to think more about accessibility but there’s still only a handful of us that are making work that’s absolutely on an equal basis for Deaf and hearing audiences, so they might not have the same experience but it will be equal. There’s a lot of companies who are really doing their best to make their work accessible but that really happens at the end of the process rather than as part of the artistic –

Kat: And how do you do that? How do you make it accessible for all?

Erin: So we use lots of different means. We have lots of video projections in the piece. We’ve worked with a Deaf filmmaker called Samuel Dore and he worked with our hearing soundscape artist to create visuals that represent sound to him in either a literal or an abstract way. We have creative captions that try to represent the tone and emotion of what is being said rather than just the content. And we do integrate sign language into the piece as well. So there’s quite a few different things going on but they’re all used to tell the story as well as to provide accessibility.
Kat: And we’ll hear more about the play actually, because it’s on for one night only at the Old Fire Station tomorrow night but we’ll talk about the story. And I suppose it’s a celebration, a tribute to your sister, a celebration of her and family I should imagine, but we’ll hear more in just a couple of moments time. My guest in the studio, Erin Siobhan Hutching who has written a play, which as I say we’ll hear about, an amazing tribute to her profoundly Deaf sister, which is on at the OFS tomorrow night for one night only! We’ll hear more from Erin in just one moment.

Song plays

Kat: It’s BBC radio Oxford and a very good morning to you. My guest in the studio is Erin Siobhan Hutching and she’s an actor and she’s also brought a play, which I think is an incredible tribute actually, to her profoundly deaf sister who resides actually in New Zealand. But she’s bringing it to the Old Fire Station in Oxford for one night only tomorrow night. But the great thing about this is, it’s not only a tribute to a sister and a celebration of her life and I would imagine, the challenges that she’s gone through, but this is accessible to a Deaf audience as well.
Erin: It is. It’s accessible to Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing so we really want to welcome everybody into the space and have them have an equal experience.

Kat: Is this something that you want to specialise in?

Erin: Yes, and I didn’t know that it was, but once I found The DH Ensemble which is this most incredible company. They started working in 2013 with the Royal Shakespeare Company actually doing a week long project exploring how you can translate Shakespeare’s text into sign language, so that was before I joined the company –

Kat: That must be very difficult!

Erin: Well, we’re actually currently working on a production of Macbeth and it is very difficult! (They laugh) Because there’s so much depth to the language. So trying to translate that into a visual language is very interesting and time consuming.
Kat: So what about the story then, of this particular play?
Erin: So when I started writing it, it started off as a series of vignettes about Deafness, the Deaf world, and different characters, and as time went on, I did a lot of research, I talked to lots of people, I interviewed my family and lots of other people who had experienced similar stories and it sort of started to come together as a more cohesive narrative about a family. And then finally, once I’d found The DH Ensemble, and started workshopping it with another actor, a Deaf actor, so there’s two of us in it, it finally got to the point where the director said you know, “This is autobiographical. It’s about your family. I think it’s really important that you own that.” So that’s how the play starts, I say, “This is about my family.”

Kat: Interesting as well, interviewing your family, because sometimes things are said in that kind of process, in those kind of moments, that you’ve never considered before, perhaps you’ve never heard your family say before.

Erin: Yeah. It’s very interesting talking to my mum, because we have a very close relationship and she’s always been very open with me but there’s certain things that I’d never thought to ask her, and finding out how she’d felt….

Kat: What were those things? And what were her answers?

Erin: I mean, she’d never met a deaf person before. She’d recently moved to New Zealand, with my Dad, because she’s Irish, and she didn’t have much of a support network in New Zealand and she had never met a deaf person before, she didn’t know anything about it, and she was told by the doctor not to learn sign language because that was common advice that they told people in those days. But fortunately she was also given advice that she should learn it, and she went and independently explored that because she thought, well I really need have a way to communicate with my child. But for her and my father it was a whole new world that they had never had anything to do with before, and they really sort of struggled to find the right information, they didn’t have the internet back then, to find support networks.

Kat: And even once they’d got that diagnosis, because you said your sister was diagnosed at 18 months, which is very, very late on, considering the kind of processes, the hearing tests that we have in hospitals today, certainly here in Oxfordshire, it seems a very very long slog and a struggle to try and get your baby diagnosed!

Erin: Yes, they told me stories about how they used to – they had suspected something was wrong, they thought that perhaps she was autistic, or that maybe she was deaf, they didn’t know but they noticed that she wasn’t responding and she wasn’t talking and she wasn’t really making sounds, so they would run up behind her and bang things together. My dad is this very sort of tall, gangly man and I can just picture him with saucepans, running up behind this baby and it is sort of quite funny when you think about it, but that was how little they were taken seriously by the doctors that they had to keep doing that themselves. And they really noticed that she didn’t respond to fireworks, and she didn’t notice when there were lots of loud sounds. But they would have a nurse come around just to check on the babies as they did in those days and Sarah was very alert so she’d turn around and look at her so the nurse said, oh, she’s fine, but eventually they managed to get the tests done and the doctor was mortified to realise that not only is she deaf, she’s profoundly deaf.

Kat: So, for people who are going to come and see People of the Eye at the Old Fire Station tomorrow night, of course it will be – the fantastic thing is that it’s accessible as we said for a Deaf audience as well as for an audience that have their hearing, but what do you hope that people will take away – what message? Is there a message that you would like people to take away?

Erin: I mean, what I would really like people to take away – it’s not necessarily an easy watch, it does explore ideas of isolation, but it does also explore the flip side of that, the connection that can be made and the relationship that my sister and I have, and our family has, because of these difficulties that we’ve experienced, and the celebration of Deaf culture. So I think I would hope if they’ve never met a deaf person before or they’ve never experienced sign language that this will be an introduction. We’re not trying to be preachy or educational but a lot of people have told us that it is absolutely fascinating to them, that they didn’t know that there is this whole world out there, that actually is a culture, not a disability. And that they might just have a little bit more empathy as they go about their everyday lives.

Kat: That’s a nice way of thinking about it, isn’t it? As a culture, not a disability. And I would imagine that when you get good feedback about this particular play that has been something that you’ve done with love, as a tribute – what’s your sister called, by the way?

Erin: Sarah.

Kat: As a tribute to Sarah, so when you get positive feedback that’s fantastic. But I would imagine that the feedback that you got from your sister meant the most to you. What’s she said about it? Has she seen it?

Erin: Well, she hasn’t been able to see it live because she’s in New Zealand with her young family now so she can’t make it over here, but she has seen video recordings of all the stages along the way, and I will be sending her the one of this leg of the tour because the show changes all the time. And I think she’s found it – she says she’s really proud of me. She’s not a theatre person herself not having had a lot of opportunities to go to theatre growing up but I think she’s really pleased that we’re sharing this message and she’s really excited by the idea that hopefully people will be learning a bit more about Deaf identity.

Kat: Well, I really do hope it’s a full house for you tomorrow at the Old Fire Station.

Erin: Thank you very much.

Kat: So, people can get tickets on the door, still a few available?

Erin: Yes, I think they can still get tickets on the door and they can book online through the Old Fire station website as well.

Kat: So, People of the Eye starts, when do people have to be in their seats?

Erin: Well, it is half past 7, so I think in their seats by 25 past would be nice.

Kat: Well it’s lovely to meet you, thank you very much indeed for coming in.

Erin: Thank you so much for having me.

Kat: And good luck with it – because this is the last date for the leg of this particular tour but then you’re off on tour with it.

Erin: Yes, we’re off on tour with it next year, off to Nottingham and a few other venues but this is the last one for 2017.

Kat: Erin, thank you very much indeed. Nice to meet you.

BBC Radio Leicester Interview & Transcript

Our writer/performer Erin Siobhan Hutching was interviewed by Martin Ballard for BBC Radio Leicester ahead of our show at Attenborough Arts Centre (TRANSCRIPT BELOW)

Listen to the interview here - starting at 39 minutes into the program.


Now, after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of Northern Stage’s program at Summerhall in 2016, the DH, or Deaf and Hearing, Ensemble, are bringing People of the Eye to the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester tomorrow as part of an extensive tour this autumn. Writer/performer Erin Siobhan Hutching has created a fascinating story about a family navigating their way through the Deaf world based on her own experiences and I’m pleased to say she joins me now. Erin, good evening to you.

Hello, how are you?

I’m good thank you. Just tell me a little bit about your experience particularly with your sister.

Yes, sure. My sister is profoundly deaf, and she is three years older than me, so I grew up using sign language so there’s home movies of me learning to sign as I learnt to speak at about 10 months of age, and that’s what inspired me to create this piece.

And it is interesting because the doctors told your parents not to use sign language initially didn’t they?

They did. It’s very common advice – it was in the 80s when my sister was born but actually still is now and has been refuted by lots of studies which show that being bilingual is obviously beneficial for most children regardless of whether they are deaf or hearing. But yeah, it was something they were told, and fortunately they were also given other advice and had the opportunity to learn sign language, so that was advice that they disregarded, and that worked really well for us to have Spoken English and sign language in the family.

Before we talk about People of the Eye, how much of your relationship with your sister, would it have been different without sign language.

Absolutely. I think so. I mean,there are lots of families in which a Deaf member of the family might feel quite isolated or have communication difficulties. Growing up, I didn’t realise that there were families that maybe experienced that. But for me, having that language with my sister, we even had our own secret sign language that we made up when we were children (both laugh) something that just the two of us knew so we could get away with saying all sorts of things and the adults wouldn’t know. So I think it really brought us closer together, and of course I interpreted a lot for her in many situations so that brought another a layer of closeness but also complexity to our relationship.

There’s an awful lot of this story in People of the Eye then isn’t there?

There is. I mean I started off writing a story about a fictional family that sort of closely resembled mine but then at some point along the way the director said well, you know, look it really is about your family so you might as well just accept that and make it an autobiographical piece. And we even use real-life home movie footage of my family in the show.

Now this isn’t just exclusively a performance for the Deaf and hard of hearing, is it? This is a performance that everybody can come to and get something from.

Yes, absolutely. So we’re very much a sort of mainstream theatre company and we make work for a mainstream theatre audience but we want to also welcome a Deaf and hard of hearing audience in on an equal basis. So rather than having an interpreter stand to the side or captions which might feel quite divorced from the action, everything – you know, the access – is in from the very beginning of the creative process for us, so we think about that and we let it inform the way that we actually make the work so that everyone might not get the same experience but they will be treated equally.

And, it was devised or directed by founder member Jennifer Bates who lead Solar Bear theatre company’s Deaf Youth Theatre for a few years, and parts of the piece devised with Sophie Stone who people might know because she appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who of course.

She did! Sophie is fabulous. She’s a lead artist in our company. So there’s myself, Jennifer and Sophie, and there’s another wonderful actor called Stephen Collins, and we run The Deaf & Hearing Ensemble but we also work with freelance artists. And Sophie was a very big part of the process for me. She jumped on board with the project when it was really just an idea with a bare minimum of a script and her creative experience and her personal experience as a Deaf person really helped me to make the work.

Now, you’ve done three dates I think already, but you’re here in Leicester tomorrow. How’s it been received so far?

Really well. We’ve been really excited because all the places that we’ve been to, we’ve not toured to before as a company so it’s been lovely to find a new audience. We were in Suffolk last night in a place called Lowestoft and we had a really gorgeous audience and quite a few Deaf people came along so we were really pleased about that. It’s really interesting when you’ve made something for the Fringe Festival, and we’ve done it several times in London, to bring it to different venues and see how it’s received. I think it is really nice coming out of London and making sure that we can really reach a wider audience.

So it’s the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester tomorrow then. For anybody who’s listening whose wondering, “What can I expect to see or hear” just sell the show for us. Tell us what to expect.

Erin: (Laughs) That’s always such a difficult question. Okay, well, there’s two performers in the piece. It’s a really intimate, immersive experience. You might even be asked to join in a little bit but nothing too scary. We use spoken English, we use sign language which is integrated, we have creative captions which really represent the tone and emotion of what’s being said as well as the content, and we also have a lot of soundscape and video projection, so all of these things come together to tell the story of a family and their journey into finding a new language and culture.

Well it sounds fantastic. Thank you for bringing it to Leicester. I’m sure it will be a major success. Erin, thank you for talking to us.

Thank you very much for having me.

Thank you. Erin Siobhan Hutching. That is the play, the performance, project, call it what you will. It’s at the Attenborough Arts Centre tomorrow. It sounds absolutely fantastic. It’s called People of the Eye. If you’ve got time, go along and see it.

BBC Radio Lincolnshire Interview & Transcript

Recently we visited Stamford Arts Centre with our play People of the Eye. Ahead of the show, writer/performer Erin Siobhan Hutching was interviewed by Carla Greene from BBC radio Lincolnshire (TRANSCRIPT BELOW)

To listen, jump to 2:11:11


Carla: Now our next guest is part of the DH Ensemble (Deaf & Hearing Ensemble) and has written a play People of the Eye inspired by true life events, coming to Stamford later this week. It’s already had a very successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of Northern Stage’s program at Summerhall in 2016 and Erin Hutching wrote the play inspired by true life events and joins me now. Good afternoon Erin.

Erin: Hello Carla, how are you?

Carla: I’m well thank you, how are you?

Erin: I’m very well, thanks for having me.

Carla: No problem at all. First of all, I mean this is really interesting, what I’ve been reading about this – the story you’ve written is inspired by your own life, really, isn’t it? So just tell us a bit more about the story behind it.

Erin: Yeah, sure. So, People of the Eye is based on my family’s experiences when my sister was born deaf, and it is about how my parents, you know, for a couple of years had suspicions that something was amiss but were told by doctors that everything was fine. They were eventually told that she was deaf and then were told not to learn sign language because that was common advice given in those days which fortunately they disregarded. And we all learnt sign language and as a family it’s about what that gave us and the relationship that my sister and I have which is strengthened by having this, sort of, special bond. And, yeah, the play itself – I went back to New Zealand a few years ago to my sister’s wedding which was an incredible celebration interpreted by this sign language interpreter. It was attended by Deaf and hearing. And it was the first time that I’d really seen my family come together in that way and that I realised the performative beauty of sign language and I thought that it’s strange that I’m a theatre maker and for all this time I’ve never thought about putting sign language into it. So that was where the inspiration came from.

Carla: And you say that the advice given to your family at the time was not to learn sign language. Why was that?

Erin: Well they used to think that learning sign language would interfere with a child’s ability to learn to speak, which current studies have disproved because being bilingual, whether it’s a spoken language or a visual language is beneficial to anybody. And, in fact, there’s been studies recently that really show that having a visual language improves cognitive function, as well as having a spoken language. But it’s actually still advice given today to some parents who have cochlear implants for their children, partially because the amount of rehabilitation that is required to learn to hear with a cochlear implant is quite a lot, there’s a lot of work that needs to go into it, so there are concerns that being able to use sign language would distract from that. But that’s not been my experience and many of the children that I know who have cochlear implants who have both languages have really benefited from it. It’s really an individual choice and I would never presume to tell anybody what they should do, but that’s just been my family’s experience.

Carla: And what was it about life growing up under those circumstances that made you put pen to paper and write about this?

Erin: Well I think what, sort of, made me realise that it would be a fascinating story to watch is this idea of the relationship that developed between my sister and I when I had to interpret for her a lot. We also had our own secret sign language. It sort of really gave us a very close bond. But also there were many struggles and frustrations because being deaf can be quite isolating especially in social situations, extended family situations or at school, things like that. And having witnessed that, that really gave me a degree of empathy for that experience as well as the fact that I benefitted so much from having knowledge of Deaf culture and sign language that I sort of felt like I wanted to do something to kind of, I guess, give something back and really tell the world what an amazing culture it is.

Carla: And what was your sister, Sarah is her name isn’t it….

Erin: Yeah, Sarah.

Carla: What was her reaction?

Erin: (laughs) Well, you know she’s very proud of me and she’s happy but she’s not into theatre at all so to her she sort of thinks that I do, I don’t know what she thinks I do really (both laugh), I think she thinks it’s all quite weird! So, yeah, she’s been very supportive but she’s a very sort of straight-laced, quite direct person so when I tried to ask her lots of in-depth questions about our childhood and what it felt like to be deaf, she was just sort of like, “I don’t know, I’m deaf, what else can I say?” But I think she’s quite pleased about it.

Carla: And you’re originally from New Zealand. Are you still based there or have you moved over here?

Erin: No, I’m based in London now, so I was really lucky to come over here and meet a company called The DH Ensemble (The Deaf and Hearing Ensemble) who were really interested in making this play with me. And I’d already been based in London for about two or three years at that point. So yeah, I’ve got an English partner now so we’ll see….but this is home at the moment.

Carla: It’s interesting that you said that even though you grew up of course with your sister and formed those relationships with your sister because she was deaf and you were interpreting for her, it’s interesting that you haven’t thought to either do something like this before or have sign, people doing sign language, using sign language, at your performances. Do you think that says something about society in general?

Erin: Absolutely. I mean, for me, I lived in, obviously New Zealand and then I lived in Australia for a while before I came here, and I’d never seen an interpreted performance. I’d never met a theatre company that had deaf actors in it. It was just something that I had absolutely never come across. And it was actually coming over to England where I think things are a little bit further ahead, that I became aware that that is something that is available and that you can have sign language interpreted performances. And that there are a few companies here who are doing really interesting work with Deaf actors and integrating sign language and I was just so excited by that. And I thought that this is something I really want to be part of. But it’s still quite new and in fact, we’re probably one of the only professional companies that makes work that’s really targeted at Deaf and hearing audiences equally and tries to bring an equal experience to both of those audiences but also recognises that the means of access, the captions and the sign language, can actually be a really intrinsic part of the art, of the artistic experience. And that if you start from that as a starting point, what you can make is really fascinating for both Deaf and hearing audiences.

Carla: Well thank you very much for chatting this afternoon. It’s really interesting what you’re saying and we’ll look forward to having the play here. It’s at Stamford Arts Centre on the 20th of November. So we’ll look forward to that.

Erin: It is. We're very excited. Thank you very much.

Carla: Thank you.