Sunday, 12 August 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful - last chance!

I have just read that there will be a final performance of Reasons to Be Cheerful at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank on September 9th - click here for booking details. Below is an extract from an earlier post about seeing the show at Stratford East.

On Friday I saw Reasons to Be Cheerful (above), a new musical featuring the songs of Ian Dury, at Theatre Royal, Stratford East - yes, the very same stage where the Fings ... mob and Alan Klein's characters in What a Crazy World first strutted their stuff. I'm not going to give a detailed review of it here except to say that it was a joyous occasion: the theatre is the right size to make musicals seem intimate, not overpowering.

It was written by Paul Sirett, also a benign overseer of proceedings as guitarist in the onstage band. What interested me, and what I can't quite work out, is why it was so good - and I don't mean to be insulting to Paul, to whom I, like many others, have reasons to be grateful.

The story was a fairly simple one: the mission to get tickets for an Ian Dury gig - and how, as the publicity says, "events take a surprising turn." But I suppose the point was you wanted to be with the characters, you were given enough information to care about them, and the songs seemed inserted at the right moments, heightening the action: a jukebox musical it wasn't, in other words, even though Dury's biggest hits were used.

At one point the convention was playfully overturned when one of the characters said why shouldn't a certain song be inserted, and lo, it was. There was also a framing device, so that we were watching characters put on a fringe theatre show in a pub, which also helped keep us away from the unreality of a big West End production, and the fact that the show was being signed (it's a coproduction with disabled-led theatre company Graeae) and that characters who were onlookers participated so vigorously in the songs (the mother, played by Karen Spicer, above, was really going for it) accentuated the idea of a communal event that embraced the audience.

The best illustration of how the songs were used was the way in which the opportunity for a mawkish onstage death scene was resisted. It's not clear whether or not a certain character died on the night of the action, but a certain song, coming when it did, was enough to tell us what the protagonist felt about it when it did come, which was all we needed to know. (Pismotality is a fully accredited spoiler-sensitive blogger - remember, always look for the logo.)

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