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.
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
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
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.
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