REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL – Theatre Royal Stratford East

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Regional theatre, Reviews, Touring by Olivia MitchellLeave a Comment

Theatre Royal Stratford East, London – 4 November 2017

‘If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything’ as the saying says. Reasons to Be Cheerful quite literally had a packed house standing to its feet in exuberant applause at the Theatre Royal Stratford East where it was first performed in 2010. One reason we can be cheerful is that this musical extravaganza of joyous, infectious energy is back to awaken social consciousness, with an unflinching message that really does hit you with its rhythm stick.

Reasons to Be Cheerful celebrates the music of Ian Dury and The Blockheads, and is an original collaboration between the Theatre Royal Stratford East, writer Paul Sirett and the Graeae Theatre Company, of which Ian Dury was a patron. Graeae is a platform for D/deaf and disabled actors, and the multi-talented cast of actors and musicians in Reasons to be Cheerful rock the stage throughout.

There is no shortage of raw energy, stage presence or acting and musical talent, with slick production value worthy of the West End. The play is underpinned by Sirett’s gritty, brilliantly written script and includes comic lines – ‘the bloke with the love and hat tattoos’ and dramatic scenes, superbly delivered by the ensemble cast.

Under the very able direction of Jenny Sealey MBE, we are invited into the working-class world of the characters from the first moment, the cast breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the audience. The story unfolds as Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) is putting on a tribute to his Dad in their local pub, and centres around his mission to get tickets to see Ian Dury at Hammersmith Palais in 1979.

Stand out performances are from Stephen Lloyd as Vinnie, who acts, sings and dances his way to glory even with a sprained ankle. Stephen Collins fires on all cylinders as the wildly anarchic, loo roll-throwing but loveable Colin. Karen Spicer (Pat) shines as the matriarch with all the moves, and Max Runham (Nick/Dave) is stunning in Billeracy Dicky. With a performance to rival Tommy Steele in acting, singing and physicality, Runham has the audience in the palm of his hand. Joey Hickman’s comic turn as a woman in a long blonde wig must also be mentioned, and is reminiscent of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot.

The pulsating rhythms of the songs by Ian Dury and the Blockheads keep the show moving at full throttle, and there is some dazzling dual-saxaphone playing by Louis Schultz-Wiremu. Song highlights include the iconic Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick performed by the sassy and energetic Beth Hinton-Lever (Janine), and Spasticus Autisticus, originally banned by the BBC but later performed at the London Paralympic Games in 2012. Sex Drugs, Rock and Roll had the audience clapping, thrusting and air-guitaring with wild abandon!
Choreography by Mark Smith is particularly brilliant for the slow motion ‘Kung Fu Moment’ fight scenes, and set design by Liz Ascroft and Nikki Charlesworth hits the mark with its ‘79-‘81 period props. Projection design by Duncan McLean is multi-functional, transporting us back to the time of the piece and providing a photo backdrop for the domestic scenes. As a Graeae production Reasons To Be Cheerful displays both captioning and song lyrics on the projector screen, as well as integrating audio description and sign language, all pioneered by the company to make their plays more accessible.

Reasons to be Cheerful is as politically resonant today as in the late 70s and early 80s, prompting its revival this year. It is particularly poignant that its opening date at the Theatre Royal Stratford East has coincided with the teachers’ Rally Against School Cuts lobby of Parliament. The current political and social climate in the UK inspired The Blockheads’ Chaz Jankel and Derek Hussey to write a new protest song, If it Can’t Be Right then it Must be Wrong, which has been added to the play.

The show is a joyous, fresh and inspiring production with plenty of heart, which is sure to make West End producers sit up and take notice. The actors and musicians are testament to the fact that talent is irrespective of disability, and that changes to casting trends are needed.
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With only fourteen performances from 24th October to 4th November, Reasons to be Cheerful at the Theatre Royal Stratford East is definitely ‘a small slice of the cake of liberty’ to get your teeth into!
Reasons To Be Cheerful runs at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until November 4th.p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 8.0px 0.0px; font: 16.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 8.0px 0.0px; font: 16.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 18.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.s2 {font: 10.7px Arial; font-kerning: none}

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Olivia Mitchell
Always surrounded by music from a young age, Olivia Mitchell is currently completing a degree in Classical Singing. To honour her passion for musical theatre in particular, in 2015, she started her blog Rewrite This Story, where she reviews shows, interviews performers and writes about all things theatrical. She tweets via @RewriteThisWeb.
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Olivia Mitchell on FacebookOlivia Mitchell on InstagramOlivia Mitchell on PinterestOlivia Mitchell on RssOlivia Mitchell on TwitterOlivia Mitchell on Youtube
Olivia Mitchell
Always surrounded by music from a young age, Olivia Mitchell is currently completing a degree in Classical Singing. To honour her passion for musical theatre in particular, in 2015, she started her blog Rewrite This Story, where she reviews shows, interviews performers and writes about all things theatrical. She tweets via @RewriteThisWeb.

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