Pleasance Dome – Queen
Even before entering the auditorium at the Pleasance Dome, it’s clear that care has gone into this event: an access table outside offers information about what to expect during the show, what you might see and hear, and ways to engage differently with it.
Care and inclusivity are prominent features in the life of Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company, which specialises in theatre for everyone, with and without disabilities. She herself has been deaf since the age of seven, and Self-Raising is her story.
We begin as she introduces the flour babies. A whole family of names from Adrian to Vicky are carefully entrusted to members of the audience to care for. Sealey then reveals that she also has secrets to share, which she has encountered throughout her lifetime. We learn about how as a child she was told not to let people know she was deaf, because it is a hearing world. We are told of hidden family truths, concealed for decades because of stigma and shame, and discover abuse of the vulnerable, propagated in well-meant intentions.
Sealey is a very likeable presence; humorous, non-judgmental and surprisingly good at ballet! Beyond her superb storytelling, this is a beautifully crafted production, with multiple layers creating an articulate complexity that is belied by her seemingly effortless, amiable delivery. The show actively enacts inclusivity. It is supported using fully integrated British Sign Language, with an interpreter overtly part of the presentation, and Sealey’s deafness made visible. There are captions for the projected visuals created by her son Jonah, who assists with voiceover and commentary during the show. His presence brings family into the assemblage.
Every detail of the simple, flexible set speaks to the story. A triple bench contains a kitchen sink that transforms into a photo developing tray, as truths are disclosed, and then becomes closets in which secrets are hidden away, or set free. Boxes of photographs bring the reality of the tale vividly to life, allowing us to envision family members and understand the interconnectedness of all the characters described.
There are some difficult, heartbreaking themes in the show, and it is at times deeply moving. Ultimately, however, Sealey’s buoyant, resilient self and her admirable honesty make this a truly life-affirming production that gifts us important perspective and warm positivity.
Written by Mike Kenny and Jenny Sealey
Directed by Lee Lyford
Produced by: Graeae Theatre Company, in association with Theatr Iolo, Soho Theatre
Self-Raising played as part of EdFringe 2023. You can find more information about Graeae here.