A year on from its critically acclaimed run in Ipswich and London, the original cast of Graeae’s hit musical ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ have reunited for a new tour. Charlie Swinbourne visited their rehearsals.
Within minutes of sitting down to watch the cast of Graeae’s musical ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ rehearse one of Ian Dury’s classic songs, I was blown away by the sheer enthusiasm before me, and the force of energy in the room.
That’s not to say that I was witnessing a carefully ordered, synchronised performance. The beauty here was in their chaotic, head-banging abandon. Arms, legs and several wheelchairs swung around, and the floor reverberated to the sound of the band. If you could harness this kind of energy you could probably power half of east London.
The original cast are clearly delighted to be back. Deaf actor Stephen Collins said “this is the most fun I’ve had in theatre. What’s good is there’s a lot of freedom - there’s so much you can do.”
Choregrapher Mark Smith has been working on new sequences that Collins told me are designed “to add more oomph!” I watched as Smith tweaked their movements - even joining in at one point to show what he wanted. The new tour features an expanded sign language narrative during Dury’s songs along with ‘mini films’ offering a visual representation of his music.
‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ was written by Paul Sirett (who plays guitar in the live band) and is directed by Graeae’s Artistic Director Jenny Sealey. It celebrates the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and is set in 1979, during a time of great public unrest. Sealey told me: “we had no idea just how relevant the issues of cuts, strikes and redundancies would be to today’s world. There’s a link between rebellion and needing to have a voice, because lives were, and are, being ruined.”
That’s not to say that the production will get you down - it’s the opposite. Sealey told me that the response to the first night in late 2010 was overwhelming. “I realised that audiences young and old have an inner punk. Seeing 400 plus people singing and and signing ‘Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll’ was just pure anarchy.”
As much as this production is about the music, there’s also a story that underpins it, following Vinnie and his friends’ quest to see Dury play at the Hammersmith Odeon on a journey that takes some unpredictable turns.
I left the rehearsals after several body-shaking renditions of ‘Spasticus Autisticus,’ which was originally banned by the BBC. “It was a big disability anthem back then,” Sealey told me, “but the words have not lost any of their power.”
My ticket for the original production of ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ coincided with the night my second child was born, so unleashing my own inner punk has been delayed by nearly a year and a half. After seeing the cast in rehearsals, I’m thankful I won’t have to wait much longer. My wife doesn’t seem to be pregnant at the moment, so I’m definitely going to see it this time around, and I suggest you do too.
The 1633 mile tour of ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ premieres at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre on 9th February before visiting Hall for Cornwall, Hull Truck Theatre, Watford Palace Theatre, Dundee Rep, and Hackney Empire, ending on the 7th April at Nottingham Playhouse.
For more information about the production, the accessibility it offers, and tour dates, go to: http://www.graeae.org/productions/reasons-to-be-cheerful-the-tour/
Below is a slideshow of Charlie Swinbourne's photos of the Graeae rehearsals for 'Reasons To Be Cheerful'