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LATITUDE 2016: Graeae Theatre Company – Reasons To Be Cheerful

Music &lyrics: Ian Dury
Director: Jenny Sealey
Musical Director: Robert Hyman
Choreography: Mark Smith
Venue: Theatre Tent
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan


There is something arrestingly timely about Graeae’s revival of their 2010 show celebrating the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads; something encouragingly cathartic about reveling in the anarchic rock and roll energy of a band that rebelled fiercely against a cruel Thatcherite Britain, at a time when Britain is once again divided down the middle and an austere female Tory prime minister has once again taken the keys to No. 10.

This is the concert version of Reasons To Be Cheerful. Shorn of any narrative, Jenny Sealey’s riotous production is a simple run through of the Blockheads’ greatest hits, From Sex &Drugs &Rock &Roll to Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, but it forges a spine-tingling energy through the sheer passion of its performers.

As Sealey’s troupe of actor-cum-musicians thrash their way through the Blockheads catalogue, they manage to imbue every number with a vicious, snarling vitality and to find fresh meaning in Dury’s lyrics. As cover gigs go, this is fairly average, but as an expression of punkish anger, it takes some beating.

But alongside this fury spurts an embrace of inclusivity and diversity, which tenderly comes to the fore in a strident rendition of Spasticus Autisticus. The large ensemble, which mixes performers with a variety of disabilities, is an inspiring collage of humanity and the group’s obvious cohesion lends Reasons To Be Cheerful a rare sense of community.

Throw in a feisty paean to liberal Britain in England’s Glory – a resonant hymn explicitly aimed at the 48% – and you have heady, emotional, slightly confused but joyously chaotic celebration of diversity, of social justice, and of Uncle Mac, Mr. Pastry and all. Oi! Oi!

Image: Dan Dennison

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