Review: SELF-RAISING, Soho Theatre

A beautiful and inclusive story of how secrets can change a person’s life

By: Feb. 09, 2024
Review: SELF-RAISING, Soho Theatre

Review: SELF-RAISING, Soho Theatre

“Every family has secrets”

Self-Raising begins with a sack of flour. But it’s not just a sack of flour. The show begins with writer and performer, Jenny Sealey, telling us how it was originally meant to be an adaptation of Annie Fine’s Flour Babies, but quickly changed into Sealey telling her own life story. Just with a few more bags of flour. As she describes to the audience, “I’m holding the bag of flour. Well, hugging it . . . Tight.”

Before the show really starts, Sealey and the BSL interpreter, Jeni Draper, take the audience on an audio tour of the set, describing the different set pieces. There is also a screen used for captioning and to show photographs, all of which are audio-described by Jonah Sealey Braverman, Sealey’s son. 

After the introduction, we are given the only bit of audience participation during the show - Sealey opens one of the cupboards, revealing bags of flour, before individually handing them out to audience members to hold throughout the show. Sealey checks up on the “flour babies” throughout the show, ensuring that they don’t wake up and start crying. 

We are then introduced to Sealey’s family, and that is when Self-Raising truly begins, with Sealey using photographs to introduce us to her Mum, Pat, her dad, Bob, her siblings and family friends Rob and Peg. Without going into too many spoilers of the show itself, as it truly must be seen with previous knowledge for the full emotional impact. The main theme of the show is how secrets shaped Sealey’s life without her knowing, leading to some shocking revelations that change how she views not only her past but her future. 

Along with secrets, one of the main themes of the show is how Sealey and her family reacted to her deafness, which happened at a young age when she was playfighting with a friend and they pushed her too hard, causing her to hit the side of her head and lose her hearing. Medical professionals tell Pat and Bob to not let Sealey learn how to sign, as she must learn how to hide her deafness and fit in with the “hearing world.” But Sealey does not let her deafness stop her, illustrating her point through a performance of a ballet dance when she was younger, “The Nun Dance.”

Anisha Fields’s set is incredibly simple, consisting of three cabinets that are able to be wheeled around the stage to form different locations throughout Sealey’s life. The lighting, designed by Emma Chapman, is used sparsely but effectively when switching between locations like a kitchen, an exam room and even a dark room, lit with a dark red glow. 

Even though there were a few captioning errors, it is great that they are there along with the BSL interpretation and audio description. At times Sealey gets ahead of the captions or misses a line, but she recovers well and always makes it something for both her and the audience to laugh about before moving on. 

Ultimately, Self-Raising is a beautiful and inclusive story of how secrets can change a person’s life. The show is incredibly accessible for audience members, something that is unfortunately a rarity these days. I hope to see more shows like this in the future and would love to see more writing from Sealey!

Read our guest blog by Jenny here.

Self-Raising runs until 17 February at Soho Theatre.