Self-Raising @ Pleasance Dome

Self-Raising is a moving, intimate journey through several generations of family secrets

Review by K Lane | 17 Aug 2023
  • Self-Raising

Jenny Sealey is the Artistic Director of the theatre company Graeae. After a lifetime spent as a director and champion of stories by Deaf and disabled artists, she now takes to the stage at the Pleasance's Queen Dome to tell her own. Self-Raising is a story about growing up Deaf in a hearing family, always doing the washing up, photography, and family secrets. As Sealey says early on: “Secrets are easier to tell strangers. I work in theatre, that’s what we do.”

Self-Raising (co-written by Sealey and Mike Kenny) began its life as an adaptation of Anne Fine’s 1992 novel Flour Babies, in which a class of underachieving students are tasked with taking care of “babies” in the form of bags of flour. As Sealey explains, the play’s development took a sharp turn a few years ago when she unearthed a long-buried family secret; however, she still opens the play by handing out bags of flour to audience members. Each has a name and is handed over only once the recipient promises to take good care of their charge. Sealey pauses to check in on these flour babies at several points during the show; fortunately, the audience members upon whom this responsibility has been bestowed clearly take it seriously, with many absently rocking and patting their flour bags throughout the piece. These exchanges effectively set the tone for the rest of the show, which passes through melancholy, confusion and genuine horror while maintaining a gentle sense of humour. 

Although Self-Raising is billed as a one-woman show, this isn’t exactly the case: Sealey’s BSL interpreter, Jude Mahon, is onstage from the beginning and is an embedded part of the show. For a story that in places becomes very lonely, it is good to have her there. The integrated access provisions also include captions and whimsical audio description designed by Sealey’s son, Jonah Sealey Braverman. Meanwhile, the visual design by Anisha Field (set and costume) and Emma Chapman (lighting) is simple and elegant, giving Sealey and Mahon exactly what they need to work with and no more.

Self-Raising is an honest, poignant and often very funny show about all the myriad chances and choices that come together to make up a family.

Self-Raising, Pleasance Dome (Queen Dome), until 27 Aug (not 21 Aug), 12.30pm, £14.50-16.50