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> > > Graeae Theatre Company's 'Reasons To Be Cheerful'

22 February 2012

a male and female singers share a mike - next to the slogan 'Oi Oi, We're Back'

Nadia Albina and John Kelly belt out Ian Dury songs in Graeae's 'Reasons To Be Cheerful'

GRAEAE director Jenny Sealy commissioned Reasons To Be Cheerful  to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary. 2010 also marked ten years since the death of Ian Dury, a one time patron of Graeae. Deborah Caulfield caught the show at the Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, on 16th February 2012.

I managed to miss RTBC in 2010, hence my 300 mile round-trip to Ipswich at the start of its second tour. It was an absolute treat to see disabled people on stage. I think secretly I wanted to be up there with them.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads were big in the second half of the 1970s and I was (am) certainly a fan. Much is now made of Dury as a disabled person. Back then it was neither here nor there. If I thought about it all, which mostly I didn’t, it was along the lines of, bloody hell, he had polio and he’s in a band too. Brilliant!

RTBC is essentially a comedy with live music - by Ian Dury and the Blockheads – that weaves in and out in a fairly arbitrary way. Yet, if it wasn’t for the music, I suspect many of us wouldn’t be here, which is OK.

The action begins in a Southend boozer, complete with thumping five piece band and free Twiglets for the audience. Soon we’re in a supermarket. Later, on the beach. I’m fine with all this. I have a good imagination.

Centre stage in Paul Sirett’s script is Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) who narrates beautifully. Despite this, however, the three-in-one story is confusing. It creates more distraction than structure, I feel.

Moreover, the show is too panto for my taste. Pathos is wasted on me. Take the character of Bobby (Garry Robson). He is blind, terminally ill and wants to die. His perky wife Pat (Karen Spicer) is at the end of her tether and the hospice beckons. (Oh yes it does!) What!?

This theme is the antithesis of everything Ian Dury stood for. It is totally at odds with his (and my) scruff-of-the-neck approach to life.
But the show must go on and I’m jolly glad it does, believe me.
RTBC’s bitter-sweet argy bargey certainly puts the boot in where it matters most, through the music.

Most of Dury’s best numbers are here, including Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Reasons to be Cheerful, and the once-banned but now iconic Spasticus Autisticus.

Wearing sleeveless vest and kiss-curl haircut, lead vocalist John Kelly is the perfect full-throttle rocker. A singer, not an actor, his best and only line is: "Enough of this sentimental shit. Let’s do Blockheads!"

I couldn’t agree more. Please do not let this review put you off going to this show. There are many reasons for seeing it: Against a backdrop of hard-right Thatcherism, the slightly slap-stick toilet roll fight is nevertheless very funny, and the kung-fu slo-moment is bizarre but really clever, Trevor.

The 'Wake Up and Make Love To Me' duet between John and Debbie (Jude Mahon, dancing and signing) is beautiful and delicately sensuous; it changed my attitude to this song, for ever.
Stephen Collins is terrific as Colin, the uncompromising anarchist in boots and braces.

Drummer Paula Faircloth, at the back, comes through loud and clear. Nadia Albina is excellent as Essex girl Janine, all legs and lipstick. Congratulations to Graeae for this rebellious, raucous and very rude tribute to Ian Dury. It’s wonderful to see Deaf and disabled people singing, dancing and swearing on stage. An up-yours sort of chap, I’m sure Dury would have approved.

I hate to end on a but. But. What a waste!

I can’t help feeling that here was an opportunity to tell a more positive, and I would argue, more real story about disabled people. For example - it's 1981, International Year of Disabled People. Inspired by Ian Dury’s Spasticus Autisticus, a bunch of bolshy crips banged-up in special school, highjack the Sunshine bus.

At gunpoint (sawn-off crutch) they force the driver to take them to see their hero. At the venue they are refused admission on the grounds they are a fire hazard. At this, an impromptu demo ensues. What do we want? Equality and justice! When do we want it? Now! Ian Dury and the Blockheads refuse to play until the crips are allowed in, which they are.
I know it’s cheesy, but at least it’s our cheese.
PS. Go see!