Review: Reasons to be Cheerful, Derby Theatre

Graeae Theatre Company. "Reasons To Be Cheerful".

Defiant, bold and jubilant. That’s Reasons to be Cheerful, the show that celebrates the spirit of disability activist Ian Dury’s music.

And Graeae Theatre Company, which places D/deaf and disabled artists centre stage, do an excellent job of exposing the clear parallels of  his 1980s Britain with the issues they still face today. Not least with an encore of a new protest song that had the audience at Derby Theatre – already standing in ovation – cheering loudly.

First seen in 2010, Reasons to be Cheerful has gone on to play at theatres, festivals and stadiums around the world, and even in front of The Queen.

Spasticus Autisticus, the disability rights anthem which features in the show, was performed by the cast at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, despite originally being banned in 1981 by the BBC, which clearly did not understand the rocker’s “war-cry” message.

Dury, among many other things was a staunch supporter and patron of Graeae, and the company’s director Jenny Sealey knew they should find a fitting tribute for him. With Reason to be Cheerful written by Paul Sirett she found just that and she says she is proud to be presenting a revamped version of the original to help fight injustice and promote equality.

It is 1979. Labour has just lost the General Election to the Tories. Strikes rock the nation and Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) is climbing the charts.

We are in a Southend boozer, complete with a pool table and darts board to watch a show within a show being staged by drama student and musician Vinnie, his friends and family, all played by a cast of 14 actors and musicians.

They are paying tribute to his father Bobby, who has died of cancer, by recreating at the pub the night they desperately tried to get to a sold-out Ian Dury and The Blockheads gig at the Hammersmith Odeon. But nothing goes quite right for die-hard fans Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) and his best mate Colin (Stephen Collins).

Along the way Vinnie’s band, headed up on vocals by the brilliant John Kelly, blast out Dury favourites including Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick; Plaistow Patricia; Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll; Sweet Gene Vincent; What A Waste and Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3).

Using Graeae’s signature theatrical language, all performances of Reasons to be Cheerful seamlessly include British Sign Language, audio description and creative captioning.

The rest of the cast were Beth Hinton-Lever, as Janine; Karen Spicer, Pat; Gerard McDermott, Bill/Bobby; Max Runham, Nick/Dave; Joey Hickman, cousin Joey/keyboards; Nixon Rosembert, Nixon/bass guitar; Paul Sirett, guitar; Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth, drums;  Louis Scultz-Wiremu, saxophone; Jude Mahon, Debbie (SLI) and Wayne (Pickles) Norman, Pickles (AD). For full biographical details of the cast and creative team go to http://www.graeae.org

The show can be seen at Derby Theatre until September 16. For tickets go to http://www.derbytheatre.co.uk

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