Written for Whatsonstage.com
With vigorous renditions of the songs of Ian Dury, an adept cast and Gaelle Mellis’ busy, bright set design, there are many reasons to be cheerful about this new musical if you’re a Blockheads fan – but fewer if you’re not. A collaboration between Theatre Royal Stratford East, Graeae (a disabled-led theatre company) and the New Wolsey Theatre (Ipswich), Reasons to be Cheerful is an energetic and enthusiastic amalgam of Ian Dury’s music with the story of two of his fans. A simple and sentimental tale with moments of humour, Vinnie and Colin are played committedly by Stephens Lloyd and Collins.
The atmosphere is lively: the theatre feels more like a pub, and the drama more like a gig. Through various trials and tribulations, Vinnie and Colin manage to get their hands on tickets to see Ian Dury at the Hammersmith Odeon. However, their trip is cut short when Vinnie’s drives into the back of someone in his Mum’s Morris. Though not an entirely predictable line of action, the story often seems to fill in the space between musical numbers. The music and drama are initially well integrated, and the songs are cleverly chosen to fit the mood. As the evening progresses though, the action is increasingly interrupted by songs which bear little relation to plot.
Paul Sirett’s script may not be high drama, but it is fun. The band’s enjoyment of their music is visible, and Jude Mahon signs for deaf members of the audience. There are also some creatively compiled videos which play the lyrics on screen for those less able to hear. The story does rather seem to limp along, and at times appears to be little more than an excuse to perform what is basically a tribute concert in a theatre. However, with its wheelchair spins, toilet roll throwing and a seemingly inexhaustible cast, Reasons to be Cheerful is a good night out.