Theatre Royal Stratford East, London – until 4 November 2017
This boisterous musical featuring the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads is a hit production from Graeae Theatre Company that gets the audience on their feet from beginning to end.
Reasons to be Cheerful as a title of a musical might not give a hint that this is a lively and rebellious musical, but the fact that this is a title of Ian Drury and the Blockheads song gives it more of an edge.
Set in 1979, Reasons to be Cheerful is very much a story of love, passion and friendship all tied up into one heartwarming story surrounded by some very edgy songs that sharpen the feelings of dissatisfaction and rebellion happening across the country at the time – even if ultimately they don’t push the story itself forward.
Jenny Sealey’s energetic production grabs the attention of audience automatically, opening with a rowdy scene in The Red Lion pub – that introduces all of the characters in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the show and is completely infectious.
While Sealey’s production and Pauk Sirett’s script isn’t perhaps as edgy as some other musicals as this kind (American Idiot for example), what it does have is plenty of attitude and characters who are instantly warm and likeable – particularly Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) and Colin (Stephen Collins) whose banter and clear bond keeps the audience invested in their journey to see Ian Dury live.
The story is told through Graeae Theatre’s unique style and putting those with disabilities centre stage – using plenty of imagination, creativity and a sense of humour that is to be applauded. In this production, the use of sign language and subtitles of key conversations projected show just how easy it is to make sure that everyone can be included in theatre and celebrates it.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, it doesn’t matter a great deal as they are performed so enthusiastically and with great energy that in fact they feel as though they have only been written. It is just a slight shame that perhaps they don’t fit in quite as well as they could have, with the lyrics not quite right with the story so unable to keep it moving forward.
Given the time in which Reasons to be Cheerful is set it is no surprise that there are some references to politics and a lot of declarations of “F**k the Tories!” – which can become a little bit tiresome towards the end as the main plot begins to tail off. But for the most part the show is a lot of fun, with plenty of banter between characters that has been sharply written and delightful to listen to.
In terms of performances, Stephen Lloyd as the down-to earth Vinnie and Stephen Collins as the more rebellious Colin are a great pairing that suggests such a genuine friendship that the audience can’t help but hope they make it to the Ian Dury gig. Lloyd’s shyness in approaching Janine (played a spirited Beth Hinton-Lever) is actually quite sweet and endearing, while Colins’ more brash approach to life in general is hilarious to watch. They are supported by a cast who clearly relish being in the show.
Overall, it is a wildly entertaining show that is enthusiastically received by the audience (including a standing ovation in the middle of one number) and deservedly so.
Reasons to be Cheerful continues to play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until the 4th November. For more information visit: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/reasons-to-be-cheerful.