Interview: Jenny Sealey

Interview: Tilly Branson
Monday 14 May 2012
reading time: min, words

Jenny Sealey studied drama at Clarendon College and went on to become the Artistic Director of Graeae, the critically acclaimed theatre company renowned for putting deaf and disabled artists and accessibility at the core of its work. In 2009 she was awarded an MBE for services to disability arts, and last year was announced as joint artistic director for the Paralympic Games. And she has somehow still found time to re-mount and tour Reasons to be Cheerful, Graeae’s musical celebrating the work of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, which arrived at Nottingham Playhouse on 3 April.


Can you tell us about Ian Dury’s relationship with Graeae, and where the idea for Reasons to be Cheerful came from?
Ian Dury was a Graeae patron and a huge supporter of disability rights, Reasons To Be Cheerful was commissioned in honour of him. It’s not a play about him, but a part play and part gig set in 1981 just after Thatcher had become Prime Minister.

What can people expect from the show? Will it appeal to people who aren’t familiar with Ian Dury and his music?
The story is set up and then takes you back two years to the journey of Vinnie, an Ian Dury and the Blockheads fan hell-bent on seeing their gig at Hammersmith Odeon in July 1979. It’s a coming of age story where Vinnie learns about love, loss, rock ‘n’ roll and politics. People can expect a high energy rollercoaster of a show, and even if you don’t know Ian Dury’s music you’ll be singing, signing and dancing by the end!

The play is set during the eighties under Thatcher's government, comparisons have been drawn between what was happening then and some of the cuts being made now - including those which are disproportionately affecting disabled people. Are there still any reasons to be cheerful?
In these times of government cuts, redundancies and austerity people need a reason to be cheerful. The show doesn’t offer a solution but it is a chance to let your hair down and be reminded Ian Dury told it as it was, and so can we.

How does it feel to be coming back to Nottingham?
It’s brilliant!  My family still live here and some of my school friends from Seely Junior School, Haywood Comprehensive and Clarendon College (now New College).  I’m trying to arrange several reunions to tie in with the show!

What are your memories of growing up in Nottingham?
I had a good time as I had a fantastic family and friends. Nora Morrison’s Schools of Dancing was my salvage as it gave me escapism from having to lip-read all the way through my education. Dancing was something I could lose myself in, and even if I couldn’t fully hear the music I could follow the person in front.

Were there a lot of opportunities for deaf and disabled people to get involved in the arts when you lived here?
I wasn’t aware of any opportunities for deaf and disabled people when I was growing up, but when I came back to live here for a while and have my baby I worked with Shape and Nottingham Playhouse Roundabout directing plays for deaf young people and a number of residencies in special schools. There’s now a strong deaf and disabled voice in Nottingham which is good, given the ongoing fight not just for inclusion and rights, but against these inhumane and hideous cuts.

Graeae website

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