Graeae's gloriously anarchic Ian Dury musical is back in town
Like ‘Wicked’ and ‘Beautiful’, ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ is one of those musicals whose title is its own review. Featuring the songs of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, it’s so full of cheer that, like the actors at the beginning, it spills off the stage and runs rampant through the auditorium.
First staged in 2010, Graeae Theatre company, who make brilliantly accessible work putting D/deaf and disabled people centre stage, have brought it back – and with good reason. The show will always be relevant as long as there's a government in power making the lives of disabled people harder and slicing away at their dignity.
It's really a musical within a musical: young Southend lad Vinnie is staging a tribute to his dad in his local boozer. His mates and his dad's mates are there, along with a six piece band, to retell the story of the time they tried to get tickets to an Ian Dury gig in 1979. The cast stays on stage the whole time, sitting on bar stools, watching, reacting, having a drink - you can almost smell the stale lager from Liz Ascroft’s set.
Paul Sirett’s book and the frequent eruptions into raucous Blockheads songs make the show as masculine and aggressive as it is tender and sentimental. Director Jenny Sealey deftly incorporates sign language and captioning into the show, presented as if they're part of Vinnie's story.
Between Stephen Lloyd’s supremely likeable Vinnie, Stephen Collins as his anarchist pal Colin (who draws circles round the ‘A’ on Andrex packets) and their boss Dave (Max Runham), a Tory wanker with a stuffed crotch and Brilliantined hair, they make for a really strong cast.
Topping it all off is a stunning band, fuelling the show with almighty sax solos (Louis Schultz-Wiremu) and prodigious keys from Joey Hickman - any show with a keytar solo is instantly pretty awesome.
The show reaches its peak during 'Spasticus Autisticus', a song banned by the BBC when it was released. It combines the show’s two thrusts: raucous, joyful energy and a ‘stop fucking patronising me because I’m disabled’ message.
Fiercely anti-Tory, movingly pro-community and inclusivity, although the show is seven years old it feels as fresh, scrappy and messy as ever.