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The Theatreguide.London Review

Reasons To Be Cheerful
Theatre Royal Stratford East     Autumn 2010

Paul Sirett's new musical sets a sweet little story to the headbanging songs of Ian Dury and the result, if more than a bit rough around the edges, has sufficient high energy and good spirits to carry it through a fun evening.

A coproduction with Graeae, the theatre company by and for the disabled, the script quietly incorporates the fact that one character is deaf, one is in a chair, and so on, and just gets on with it.

Dialogue and lyrics are projected in surtitles (which poses a small dilemma for the hearing in the audience, who have to fight the impulse to read along and see the jokes before they're actually spoken), and one of the characters unobtrusively signs as well as speaks.

The simple story is of a couple of East End Dury fans eager to get to a sold-out live gig in 1979. Their misadventures along the way allow a shy guy to get the girl and also to bond with his dying father.

A couple of the songs - Billericay Dicky and Sweet Gene Vincent - are integrated into the plot, but most are mechanically inserted (as when they anticipate hearing Dury open his act with Wake Up And Make Love With Me) or self-contained and self-justifying party-mood pieces (like the title song and the inevitable Hit Me and Sex And Drugs And Rock & Roll).

Stephen Lloyd is an attractive shy guy, Stephen Collins amusing as his mate, while Garry Robson ably carries much of the dramatic weight as the father. While the actors do some singing, most of the numbers are led by a separate singer, the intense and growling John Kelly.

To be honest, the production is ragged, the performances uneven, the musical numbers more energetic than polished.

Though a choreographer is credited, dancing consists largely of individuals bouncing around randomly, frequently crashing into each other as they might in a mosh pit.

And the surtitles are particularly appreciated during the songs, which are frequently louder than they are intelligible (and Dury's lyrics, cleverer than most, as in the catalogue songs Reasons To Be Cheerful and England's Glory, deserve to be heard).

But all this is somehow in the Dury spirit, and if you give yourself over to it, the vaguely amateur do-it-yourself feel of the show eventually becomes part of its charm.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Reasons To Be Cheerful - Theatre Royal Stratford East 2010


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