Since my last visit to the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, Philip Jackson’s lovely statue of Joan Littlewood, Mother of Modern Theatre, has settled in outside the entrance to the theatre, warmly welcoming people to a world that she had a significant hand in creating through her Theatre Workshop shows.
And how she would have loved and approved of this latest contribution to the unfettered vibrancy of living theatre. Reasons To Be Cheerful is a rollicking, rip-roaring, roller-Cortina ride that restores our faith in human nature and makes us wonder at the privilege of being alive.
Because alive it is. The band – a sizzling six-piecer that glories in making your ribs rattle – synchronises the show and provides, ranged upstage, a kind of audio-cyclorama in front of which the action takes place. I say six-piece but with the quicksilver Louis Schultz-Wiremu it might be more accurate to say seven-piece: he plays two Saxophones at once. I’ll say that again: he plays TWO saxophones – an alto and a tenor – AT ONCE. One mouth, two
embouchures. I’ve never seen or heard, the like before. Joey Hickman (Cousin Joey) is on keyboards with Nixon Rosembart on Bass and the pulsing rhythms of Ian Drury’s music are thumped out on drums by the excellent Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth. Lead vocals are by the uncannily Drury- esque John Kelly and he is given excellent support by Gerard McDermott who plays Bill/Bobby, Beth Hinton-Lever (Janine) Jude Mahon (Debbie) and Stephen Lloyd (Vinnie) though all members of the cast sing – raucously and with unbridled enthusiasm. Even Wayne Norman has a go though he spends most of his time, as Pickles the ticket-fixer, on the pub pay-phone. Lloyd gives an inspired performance as Master of Ceremonies/love-angst-ridden teenager/devoted son of dying father/inveterate prodder of mates-in- pub, limping on crutches (just like Gene Vincent after the Eddie Cochrane car crash) and lurching from vivacious panache, through forlorn female-fumbler, to the low-key anguish of losing a father. He seems to have encapsulated the subtle simplicity of Drury’s lyrics in the Vinnie role. And he wears the Gene Vincent leather well in tribute to his father’s favourite icon.
That loss, of Vinnie’s father, is the basis of the show – a pub setting for a memorial celebration of his Dad’s life with songs supplied by the canon of Ian Drury and the Blockheads, a performance in which Vinnie is aided and
abetted by his Mum Pat (Karen Spicer), his would-be girlfriend Janine, his boss Dave (Max Runham – in full-on Essex-Lad- I’m-too-sexy-for-my-boxers mode) and especially his mate Colin, a loudly provocative and affectionately rumbustious performance by Stephen Collins. Collins sings, shouts, gabbles, grunts, points, signs and engages every single audience member with his energetic ebullience and if we weren’t so bound up in his irrepressible bravado we’d get tired just watching him. He has to lie down and go to sleep at one point and I imagine that the hardest job for Director Jenny Sealey was trying to get Collins to stay still for the duration of a song. Sealey, in partnership with writer Paul Sirett (who also plays guitar in the band), creates a wonderfully vibrant East End pub atmosphere and never allows the action to flag. And she ensures that her cast insist that the audience is included, heckling, clapping, singing along and rocking in the aisles without ever going full pantomime. It’s a great show and a great experience: one that does Graeae Theatre Company, and Ian Drury, proud.
Review by Peter Yates
Graeae Theatre Company in association with the Belgrade Theatre Coventry present:
Celebrating the infectious music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL is a punk rock musical and gritty coming of age tale, which always leaves audiences shouting for more. Featuring Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ greatest hits including Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Sweet Gene Vincent, Spasticus Autisticus and Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick this acclaimed show will fill Theatre Royal Stratford East with raucous glee.
It’s 1979: Labour loses to the Tories, strikes rock the nation and Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) climbs the charts. As the ultimate fans, Vinnie and his mates would do anything to see Dury at the Hammersmith Odeon, only the gig is sold out. But life has a habit of throwing strange things at you, and one night of frustration becomes something else entirely…
By Paul Sirrett
Director Jenny Sealey
Associate Director Daryl Beeton
Designer Liz Ascroft
Lighting Ian Scott
Sound Lewis Gibson
Choreography Mark Smith
Musical Director Joey Hickman
Casting Sarah Hughes CDG
Stephen Lloyd (Vinnie), Stephen Collins (Colin), Beth Hinton-Lever (Janine), Gerard McDermott’s (Bill/Bobby),
Karen Spicer (Pat), Jude Mahon (Debbie), Wayne ‘Pickles’ Norman (Pickles), Joey Hickman (Cousin Joey), John Kelly (Lead Vocals), Nixon Rosembert (Bass), Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth (Drums), Max Runham (Percussion), Louis Schultz-Wiremu (saxophone), Paul Sirett (guitar)
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
The ULTIMATE Ian Dury and The Blockheads musical
Book by Paul Sirett, music by Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Directed by Jenny Sealey
Tue 24 Oct – Sat 4 Nov 2017