cheerful cast

Picture: Patrick Baldwin

Reasons to be Cheerful

Derby Theatre


I saw Ian Dury live at Leeds University Refectory on 15th October 1977 as part of the Bunch of Stiffs tour.

That was almost exactly forty years ago. Punk was breaking, and big, but this was billed already as New Wave.

Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric and Elvis Costello, also on the bill were “new”, Larry Wallis and Ian Dury were not. The Blockheads had not yet been formed, instead Dury was backed by a pick up band of the other musicians on the tour. Dury’s performance was mesmerising, a fusion of  vaudeville, fifties rock n roll, and pub rock.

It was watched over by the ever vigilant Spider, his roadie and minder. For the following five years they were amongst the most popular live acts of the day. Forty years on, he is the centrepiece of a musical.

The show is taken on by the Graeae company, which champions work for the physically and visually impaired, both for performers, and audiences. Artistically led by Jenny Sealey, sign language, captioning and audio description is a feature of their work of which they are rightly proud.

Spasticus Autisticus, the Ian Dury-penned disability rights anthem which features in the show, was performed by the cast at the London 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony. Dury himself was a patron of Graeae.

The songs, are fabulous, along with favourites like Sweet Gene Vincent and Clever Trevor there is a brand-new song, co -written by Blockheads' Chaz Jankel Derek Hussey and Graeae’s John Kelly, If it can’t be right it must be wrong.

Superbly arranged by musical director Joey Hickman, it fits effortlessly alongside the other hits. Choreographer Mark Smith has the fairly easy task of staging the dancing for the big numbers, so infectious are the rhythms of the songs that it is impossible NOT to move!

Paul Sirrett’s plot and dialogue is effective as a narrative framework, but the music is always the star, played live on stage. There are some great lines, with plenty of trademark Cockney wit, however the links between songs can be a bit laboured. Set in 1979, the narrative backcloth is one of an impending Thatcherite dynasty, the social detritus of a failed Labour government, and Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) storming the charts. We are introduced to the protagonists, who fail  to secure tickets to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads play Hammersmith Odeon, thus precipitating their adventure.

Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) and his mad cap anarchist best mate Colin (Stephen Collins) are a wonderful double act, the latter revelling in converting the A of the Andrex toilet roll brand into the anarchy symbol. Vinnie’s terminally ill dad, Bobby, is sensitively played by Gerard McDermott, while Beth Hinton Lever has much fun as Janine, the gutsy girl who Vinnie is trying to pull.

The anti-Tory politics feels a little clunky and forced at times, but the heart of the show is in exactly the right place. Vibrant, noisy and lively, an opening night audience thrilled to the show appealing to veteran (old) fans like myself, and newcomers alike. Reasons to be Cheerful  runs till Sat 16th and continues on tour nationwide.

Gary Longden


Index page Derby Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre