Friday, March 23, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful’ by Paul Sirett

23 March 2012

We were back at the Watford Palace Theatre on Saturday to see ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ – a play-come-musical written by Paul Sirett, featuring the music of Ian Dury and The Blockheads. This was the first time I had seen Graeae – the acclaimed theatre company that boldly places disabled artists centre stage. ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ was directed by Graeae’s Artistic Director Jenny Sealey, who is Co-Artistic Director of the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony. The first impression was of a stage packed with people – the cast of disabled and non-disabled actors indistinguishable from an excellent Blockheads tribute band. The framing device was that we were in a pub in 1981 to watch a play about events in the summer of 1979, performed by the people whose story they told. (With some exceptions – I liked the fact that Vinnie’s obnoxious boss Dave was played by Vinnie’s friend Nick because Dave obviously wouldn’t have been invited to take part in this performance. Amid the rumbustious energy of the play there was a nice level of internal logical consistency.) The acting and the characterisation were great – with lots of clever little touches going on in the background across the crowded stage. I loved the enthusiasm of the Musical Director of the band – Robert Hyman – who was also Vinnie’s Uncle Harry. It took me some time to work out that Pickles (Wayne ‘Pickles’ Norman) who appeared to have wondered onto the stage from the audience, joining in the dancing but having no dialogue, playing no real part in the story and spending most of the evening speaking into a payphone in the corner of the pub, was actually doing the audio description for those audience members who couldn’t see the action. The signer, Jude Mahon, was very much part of the action, singing and dancing with the rest of the cast and occasionally acting a part (at which point someone else would seamlessly take over sign language duties). There was also inventive use of a large video screen – both to provide captioning for those who couldn’t hear the dialogue and to illustrate the colourfully surreal world of Ian Dury’s songs. Bring able to read Dury’s incredible lyrics as they whizzed past at high speed was a fantastic addition for all members of the audience. The songs were wonderful – delivered with massive energy and enthusiasm and truly getting the whole theatre rocking. John Kelly’s lead vocals were Ian Dury to a T – without descending into parody or impression. Alongside the music, the performances and the inventiveness of the production, the story seemed a bit weak and disappointingly light on the politics of 1979. But by the time we got to several encores the audience was on its feet and we left humming “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”.

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