Ray Bradshaw has an unusual background, in that he was raised by two deaf parents and consequently, as this show revealed, is fluent in sign language and acted as their interpreter from a young age. In this unique and highly interactive show, he sought to apply his naturally charming stand-up style to telling his story in a way that is accessible for deaf and hearing audiences alike.
It became clear as the show unfolded that loads of work has gone into it: segments are signed and talked simultaneously, an impressive feat, but large bits are pre-recorded either as a voice over (with Bradshaw signing onstage) or as a video showing Bradshaw signing while he spoke onstage. Putting this all together produced some funny mishaps with the first few takes - as we learned, some very inoffensive words have signs that are very close to those of much ruder ones.
Bradshaw’s mission is very clearly both to inform and entertain and he does well at both. He holds a mirror up to the audience and any misconceptions we might have: this is very much a show where the target is rightly the people who are ignorant, and it never feels like Bradshaw is exploiting his parents or his unique position in life for cheap laughs. Rather, he lifts them up, illuminating us about the quirks of both the community and of sign language.
Much of the humour came from anecdotes about pranks his father would play on Ray and his brother when they were children, including the hilariously horrifying time a young Ray discovered his dad could lip read, and this highlighted how, as with all minority groups in society, we have more in common than the characteristics that divide us. The show is gently political, presenting facts that demonstrate how deaf people have been deprioritised by society and explaining how there's a shortage of sign language interpreters because the training is so expensive and of course there's no funding on the NHS.
Only a small proportion of the audience knew sign language, which is heartening in a way because it suggests that many people are curious to learn. Bradshaw also mentioned that over the course of his tour, many deaf people at his show were seeing stand up for the first time, suggesting that his aim to make comedy more accessible is working. While Bradshaw himself does have what he calls a deaf identity, it would be great if this show inspires more deaf people to actually get into stand up themselves because while this show is a first, it shouldn't be a last, and it would be even better to learn these stories directly from people whose voice has been amplified here but overlooked by society at large. Either way, Bradshaw has an unusual and engaging story and tells it really well. The tour has now concluded but I am intrigued to see where he goes next and if he returns to Oxford I would encourage everyone not to miss him.