Jenny Sealey
Graeae Theatre Company, in association with Theatr Iolo, Soho Theatre
Pleasance Dome


There is something about Jenny Sealey which is mesmerising. Having spent a career fighting for the rights of differently able people to get onto a stage and turn round to face their audience, then be given the respect and attention their stories deserve, we get a very honest and upfront story which is all about Sealey herself.

It begins with a conceit that this was not the story she began to write. She began to work on a book adaptation, but that seems to have got away from her and the parallels in that book with her own life gave her agency to explore her own story. It gave her an opportunity to tell the story of her own family secret.

The secret is pretty fundamental, however Sealey raises it significantly from a BGT style confessional or TED Talk by giving us the theatricality of an event, a performance, and a theatrical setting. We have not just the story, which is compelling, but a cast of characters which include her son—appearing in a cute series of photographs and voiceover—with her mother looming large. It is as much of a story of that one woman, along with other women in Sealey’s life that is an entry point and a scene-setting element of this performance.

Of course, the men, her dad and father, have their roles to play, not least around issues of identity and sexuality, as well as the upbringing Sealey felt she had and the one she certainly benefitted from. It’s a difficult story for anyone to tell, no matter how beautifully packaged it has been.

Here, that packaging includes a set with three boxes—with cupboards—a sink in the middle one and all three light up. In the stage right one, there are bags of flour, which, along with the book she was about to adapt—Flour Babies—is a link at the beginning which is going to be explained later. It comes from a series of 1980s experiments with young people having bags of flour like babies to look after. The bags of flour represent her siblings, and, as we go through the story she wishes to tell, their significance grows with each revelation.

We discover how she ended up deaf. It follows that she became affected in her own development within her family, and how it ended up with a consultant abusing his position. It serves as a backdrop to the story, and it becomes less of what defines Sealey herself as a narrator. It works so well that this is a story that could come from any family.

It reminded me that stories which are to be told should come from the experiences of those we see onstage. Here it sang with an authenticity, not just because it was Sealey’s own story, but also because she knew how to tell it, draw us into it and leave us with a better knowledge of why she was in Denmark early in her life, why Tempest’s as her father’s business was so apt and ironic and of course what BOLTOP means. At almost every turn there is a revelation and human connection which takes us beyond the pat nonsense of an ancestry programme into the emotion of the bags of flour and how they represent what we all need to look after.

Technically, this was beautifully done and the video of her mother with a voiceover was a perfect example of just how poised the revelations and discovery were. At one point, Sealey spoke of dancing the dance of freedom and liberation, and we too were shown all the dance steps.

Reviewer: Donald C Stewart

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