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Reasons To Be Cheerful

 

Written by Paul Sirret

 

Directed by Jenny Sealey

 

Music by Ian Drury

 

Theatre Royal Stratford East

 

22 October – 13 November 2010

 


 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Freddie Mercury might be smiling in his grave as his golden statute salutes the guests of We Will Rock You, but how might Ian Drury feel if he knew his irreverent numbers have been squeezed into a square shaped musical? I suppose he’d just say we’re all blockheads and wouldn’t give a toss. However, he doesn’t have to sit through one hundred and thirty five minutes of it. Let’s be brief: if you’re interested in plot, character development, illuminating dialogue or indelible moral questions, then this show won’t cut it, but then again, when did Ian Drury ever care about any of the above?

Set in 1979, the show is a parade of Drury’s finest accolades, dutifully and skilfully played out by the on stage, part-disabled band. The plot loosely clothes this musical meat, and provides a mild excuse to stomp from one geezer belter to another. As Drury and Thatcher rise in oppositional power, school drop-out Vincent and his blind, wheel-chair bound father Bobby struggle to get tickets to the Blockheads gig. When Vincent’s best mate, the deaf anarchist Colin does no better, the boys have to watch their sleazy Tory boss Dave take Vincent’s sweetheart Janine to the concert while they cover the shop. After a fortuitous eavesdrop and less fortuitous car crash, the four leads spend the whole second half of the play, by far the best scene, on the beach of Thorpe Esplanade - a scene unceremoniously cut with welcome musical relief to keep Ian Drury’s ghost alive.

The collage of bodies on stage at the opening is confusing, and as there’s no clear line between action and ‘off-stage’, so it’s hard to know where to focus. This seems fit for an introduction, but becomes debilitating as it continues throughout the main action. Vincent’s meta-theatrical narration blurs the fourth wall of the proscenium arch rather than outlining it. His attempts at explanations muddle rather than clarify, which adds a ramshackle laziness to what dresses itself as a traditional performance in the grand old Theatre Royal.

The strength of the show rests with the all accessible communication offered to the audience. To accompany the traditional movement, speech and song of the stock musical, there’s sign language, a screen projecting the script and even an actor explaining the action to God knows who on the other end of a phone line. There’s some great acting too: Stephen Collins’s fiery rebel Colin brings both comic and dramatic force and Garry Robson’s embittered Bobby provides emotional nourishment for a largely theatrically starved audience. In fact, the most touching moments of the piece are the boyish exchanges between the two handicapped men, Colin and Bobby, as they test each other on Drury’s rakish lyrics, which, sadly, neither are likely to be carrying out.

The stage feels too large for the cosy, pub room setting, and the lingering actors, in limbo, muffle the emotional connection between the audience and the leads. Still, this can be part excused as a tribute to Drury. Leaving all the characters on stage at all times reminds us that what we’re really here to celebrate is the music, and everyone wants to sing and dance to every song. Nevertheless, in an all seated two-tier theatre, it is near impossible to include the audience in this ho- down, and inevitably, there’s an impassable void between stage and viewer.

Now the audience may not have been thrusting in their seats, as they were more than once urged to do, but the quality of the music was unblemished. Mat Fraser’s shorter arms never once hinder his drumming, Nixon Rosembert’s bass was not fretless, but flawless, and John Kelly’s gruff vocals mimicked Drury masterfully. Though, the real musical accolade must be awarded to Robert Hyman. His conducting, musical direction and acrobatic keyboards (oh yes, he hopped round Daniel Mcgowan to reach chords high and low) demonstrate his multi-faceted talent, and his relationship with the on-stage and guitar playing playwright Sirret shone past the foray upstage and into the audience’s nostalgic hearts.

 

Box Office: 020 8534 0310

 www.stratfordeast.com

Theatre Royal Stratford East
Gerry Raffles Square
London
E15 1BN

22nd Oct – 13th Nov, Tues – Sat at 7.30pm, Sat 6th Nov at 2pm

Tickets: £12/17 or £15/20

 

 

 

 

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