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Stuart King

Review: REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL at Theatre Royal Stratford East

Reasons to be Cheerful Back in the late 70s during the heyday of disco, the UK music industry suddenly found itself confronted with the anarchic punk and new wave movements. Ian Dury and the Blockheads were at the forefront of that groundswell which ruffled and challenged establishment conventions.

Reasons To Be Cheerful, which has a limited run at The Theatre Royal Stratford East, documents a fictional group of guys and gals and their attempt to secure tickets to attend one of Dury's now legendary series of headline concerts at The Hammersmith Odeon (since renamed the Apollo). Written by Paul Sirett, the story provides little more than a thinly woven structure on which to present some of the most notable and inventive songs to have been borne of the period. "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll", "What A Waste", Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" and "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3" are all delivered with oodles of gusto and enthusiasm by the onstage band and performers - many of whom, like Dury himself (who contracted polio at the age of 7), refuse to allow mere physical disabilities to get in the way of energetic and engaging performances. Everyone gets a chance to shine, but perhaps the juvenile leads Vinnie and Janine (played by Stephen Lloyd and Beth Hinton-Lever respectively) provide the closest thing to a love story as their budding relationship overcomes the lecherous comic antics of Max Runham's bulging trouser exploits and an ill-fated expedition to the concert.

There is a thin line between raucous enthusiasm and self-indulgence and the production occasionally strays - particularly in the second half - but that is perhaps indicative of the anarchic nature of the subject and material. Both "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" and "Spasticus Autisticus" were banned by the BBC in its self-appointed moral crusade to protect the record buying public from itself and as with similar attempts at censorship, it merely increased the appetite for the records. In response to the current political turmoil, the creators have included a modern-day anthem at the end of the show to which the audience are encouraged to sing along to the projected lyrics, thereby demonstrating their affinity with the struggle of the working classes. It was perhaps a politicising gesture too far in Director Jenny Sealey's production, adding to the show's running time, but little of entertainment value.