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Nina Muehlemann celebrates the last day of the Unlimited with 'Reasons to be Cheerful' / 10 September 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'

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The last eleven days, during which the Unlimited Festival happened, were more amazing, exciting, and exhilarating than I could have ever imagined. And, fittingly, they ended with a massive bang. Graeae and the New Wolsey Theatre’s hit musical ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ saw an extremely diverse cast perform a coming-of-age story while playing, with a full band, the greatest hits of Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

As we get to our seats in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the cast is already on stage in character, and there is a deliberate atmosphere of chaos as they banter with the audience. The musical has gained a cult following during the last two years, and the people next to us proudly declare that this is the tenth time they've come to see ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’.

The story is set in a pub in 1981, where main character Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) and his friends and family re-enact a series of events that have happened two years ago, in 1979. Vinnie and his best mate Colin, who is superbly played by Stephen Collins, are trying to organize tickets for Ian Dury and the Blockheads for themselves and Vinnie’s fatally ill father Bob (Garry Robson). We follow Vinnie and his mum (Karen Spicer) as they struggle coming to terms with Bob’s illness, and see how Vinnie becomes smitten with his co-worker Janine (Nadia Albina), who is currently dating their sleazy, Tory-voting Boss (Daniel McGowan). 

Despite the familiar boy-meets-girl plot, the show stays true to its punk aesthetics throughout. Whenever the ‘sentimental bollocks’ goes on for a bit too long, John Kelly grabs a microphone and, completely unfazed by the cutesy love story, bursts into another Blockheads song.

Reasons to be Cheerful’ is set in an economic and political climate that mirrors contemporary Britain in an almost uncanny way, and the characters’ frustration with cuts and a government that shows little interest in the rights of disabled or ill people is all too familiar to the audience. When the cast chaotically and joyfully belts out the songs of the late Ian Dury and proudly shouts ‘I’m spasticus autisticus!’, the audience joins in and the last day of the Unlimited Festival becomes a bold and snotty celebration of individuality and diversity.

Keywords: graeae,ian dury,music,reasons to be cheerful,unlimited