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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Reasons To Be Cheerful
Graeae and YouTube    Summer 2020

This high-energy, tuneful, entertaining, occasionally moving and occasionally shambolic production from the touring company Graeae and Coventry's Belgrade Theatre was first seen in 2010, when we reviewed it HERE. This online version records a 2017 revival with much of the original cast.

Graeae is a company by, with and for both able-bodied and disabled performers and audiences. Typically, one performer here is deaf, one in a wheelchair, and so on, without any particular fuss being made about it.

More significantly, the characters in Paul Sirett's script are abled or disabled to fit their performers, and with the same nonchalance, creating the very attractive and believable picture of a group of friends who know that some among them have physical limitations, adjust as needed, and then find no reason to mention it.

Indeed, one secondary character is quickly established as the Bad Guy by having him make a disparaging comment about someone else's disability.

(Graeae's commitment to inclusion extends to the audience, with one cast member or another unobtrusively translating dialogue into sign language while onstage surtitles are projected. The video version comes with subtitles, about which more later.)

The story, set in 1979, is of the adventures and misadventures of some fans of Ian Dury And The Blockheads heading for a gig. It requires no major spoiler alert to note that the gig itself is a bit of a McGuffin, because the play is really about what happens on the way.

Friendships are affirmed, a romance gets going and family ties are strengthened all punctuated by about a dozen Ian Dury songs. Some of the songs are incorporated into the plot, some comment on it, and some happen because somebody onstage wants to sing this song right now.

And so a word about the songs. While the music is a bit too punk-rock-minimalist for my taste, Dury was an inspired rock poet, with lyrics that can be evocative, image-filled, inventive and witty.

Those whose ears are not attuned to the enthusiastic shouting mode of the performances will be grateful for the subtitles, particularly in such list songs as Reasons To Be Cheerful and England's Glory.

Jenny Sealey's direction matches the curious mix of raw energy and careful craftsmanship that was Dury's style by creating the illusion of less order and structure than there really is.

With members of the cast seemingly wandering aimlessly around the stage when not needed or joining in songs seemingly on whim, the whole takes on an amiable home-made quality that enhances the happy, healthy, all-embracing quality of the show.

Stephen Lloyd and Stephen Collins as the buddies, Beth Hinton-Lever as the girl one of them has been too shy to approach, and Gerard McDermott as a dying but life-affirming father are supported by a large cast that also includes John Kelly leading the singing and a hard-driving onstage band.

If the sound is not always perfect on this video version, it does capture the energy, spirit and fun of a live performance.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Reasons To Be Cheerful - Graeae  2020