Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll at the New Wolsey

Reasons To Be Cheerful, by Paul Sirett with music by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Graeae Theatre Company and New Wolsey Theatre, until Saturday February 18

There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful if you catch this gloriously infectious show at the New Wolsey in Ipswich. The energy that rockets off the stage is simply breathtaking.

Add to that the rambunctious nature of Dury’s music and the audience is immediately transported back to 1979 and a world on the verge of huge social change.

Unlike many New Wolsey shows Reasons To Be Cheerful is not a musical biography. It doesn’t tell the story of Ian Dury’s rise to fame. What it does provide is a window into the world which produced Dury and his music.

The New Wolsey’s stage is transformed into The Red Lion pub in Southend. As the audience enter the auditorium the regulars are already present preparing for a special evening. Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) has constructed a play which ostensibly tells the story of a valiant but ultimately futile trip to see Ian Dury & The Blockheads at the Hammersmith Odeon but what he really does is present a glowing tribute to his Dad, Bobby Bentley, who is dying of cancer.


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The way the play is constructed and performed, with the members of the cast introducing themselves at the beginning, it is really easy to believe you are witnessing a fantastic piece of pub theatre.

The script and the performances are touching and real but, most importantly, there is such a sense of excitement and energy about the show. The air is charged with static electricity for two hours as we get a tale of friendship, romance, rivalry, loss, longing and family solidarity.

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It’s an extraordinary achievement which is given added resonance by Dury’s hits which provide the soundtrack to their lives.

Great use was made of the video screen at the back of the stage. Mark Haig, the video designer, has come up with some superb visuals to accompany the lyrics which are displayed.

Seeing the words projected onscreen makes you appreciate Dury’s skill as a wordsmith – you marvel at his love of language and his role as the poet of his times.

The only drawback is that, occasionally, the production suffered from visual overload. As an audience you weren’t quite sure what you should be looking at. If you were watching the actors then you were afraid you were missing something good on screen and if you were watching the screen then you are afraid you would be missing something good on stage.

Graeae are a company of fabulously inventive and talented theatre professionals. Disability doesn’t limit or define them in any way.

A hugely talented cast delivers a quite astonishing show. The strangest sight of the evening was seeing a lot of seemingly respectable patrons doing pelvic thrusts during the encore. It just demonstrates the power of Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll!

What a stunning start to the New Wolsey’s spring season.

Andrew Clarke

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