Profoundly deaf children of deaf parents sign in their sleep. At an age when hearing children are babbling and learning to speak, the deaf babble sign. It's not mere interpretation of spoken language, it's a language in itself.

For signer Wendy Ebsworth, it's not just a question of hands. 'Obviously, it's important to tell my audience who is speaking, so I try to use a different physicality for each character.' With a cast-of-millions show like The Kitchen, that's a tough assignment. 'The hearing audience couldn't follow who was saying what half the time. It was about creating the chaos of a working kitchen so I reflected that. I established characters through their accents and would indicate an accent at the start of a phrase.'

On Monday, she's doing Dead Funny (right). Preparation has consisted of reading the script several times, talking to the cast and seeing the play four times. 'Puns and wordplay are a signer's nightmare. They're virtually untranslatable. That's what makes comedy so difficult.' As with the actors, timing is crucial. 'I don't want to sign over a huge laugh. My audience want to respond with the hearing audience.'

'If I'm watching a show that I'm not working on and I don't like it, I get this really childish glee from buying an ice-cream at the interval. . . and leaving. It doesn't happen very often though.'

In addition to 'Dead Funny' on Monday, Wendy will also be signing 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', 'The Seagull', 'Tosca' and 'Don Quixote' (ENO), among others. Ring theatres for details

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