Oi! Oi! Anarchy breaks out as Reasons to be Cheerful rallies into West Yorkshire Playhouse this month. A Graeae Theatre Company production in association with Belgrade Theatre Coventry, the musical is a collection of Ian Dury and The Blockheads’ anarchic hits featuring a cast of D/deaf and disabled artists.
Paul Sirett’s book tells a charming love story set against the politically riotous backdrop of late Seventies’ Britain. Vinnie and Colin are huge Ian Dury fans and would like nothing more than to attend a forthcoming Blockheads gig. As the boys seek out a means to get to the performance, Vinnie becomes torn between his terminally-ill father and the prospect of a relationship with the lovely Janine. Can he get to the gig and win the girl, or will his miserable boss block the way?
Ian Dury, a lifelong rebel and reformer, spent much of his life supporting disability rights, himself a disabled person who had contracted Polio as a child. His disability was an aspect of his identity he never shied away from; Spasticus Autisticus – Dury’s fearless, provocative response to 1981’s Year of Disabled Persons, is a typical Dury protest against the establishment and like many of the memorable numbers in Reasons to be Cheerful, seeks to shock, provoke and enlighten through cheeky, bawdy punk rock funk.
The music of Dury and the Blockheads is brightly revived with a dynamic live band who often double up as characters in the play. The arrangement is wholly faithful to the Blockheads’ peerless punk-funk sound, offering an addictive disco bass from Nixon Rosembert, combined with a relentlessly aggressive drum set from Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth. Sharp wah-wah lead guitar comes from author Paul Sirett, whilst Louis Schultz-Wiremu’s quintessential cheeky sax soars above the arrangement. Charismatic keys come courtesy of Joey Hickman, underpinning the set with some irresistibly striking synth.
Energetic numbers are fronted by all characters in the play, with John Kelly and Gerard McDermott taking the lion’s share of Dury’s big hits, perfectly mimicking the razor-tongued cheeky-chappie persona. Foul-mouthed classics such as Plaistow Patricia, combined with Spasticus Autisticus, remain uncensored and wholly unfettered, ensuring performances retain a gruff integrity.
A gentle narrative is eased forward by bright-eyed Stephen Lloyd as Vinnie, charismatically anchoring the show from a symbolic set of crutches, whilst Stephen Collins provides plenty of pantomime laughs as frustrated rebel Colin. A sympathetic love interest comes from Beth Hinton-Lever as Janine, whilst Karen Spicer delivers a sprinkle of dramatic pathos as Vinnie’s suffering mum. Special notice must go to the magnetic Max Runham, who effortlessly transfers from bully boss Nick to guitar, drums, and keys throughout the show.
Reintroducing a new generation to the music of a much-loved and talented agitator, Reasons to Be Cheerful is a relevant and prescient comment on today’s almost fractured society. Concluding with a rogue’s gallery of politics’ finest all-time crooks, accompanied by all-new Blockheads number, it’s hard to resist the urge to get out your seat and stomp your feet in rebellion.
This show is a deliciously vulgar, mischievous, boat-rocking protest of a musical which pays great testament to an unforgettable cultural icon. Go see.
Cast: Stephen Lloyd, Stephen Collins, Beth Hinton-Lever, Karen Spicer, Gerald McDermott, Max Runham, Joe Hickman, John Kelly, Nixon Rosembert, Paul Sirett, Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth, Louis Schultz-Wiremu, Jude Mahon, Wayne ‘Pickles’ Norman. Director: Jenny Sealey Writer: Paul Sirett Theatre: West Yorkshire Playhouse Duration: 130 minutes Dates: 10th – 14th October 2017.