Produced by the innovative Graeae Theatre Company who ‘place D/deaf and disabled artists centre-stage’, Reasons to Be Cheerful is an energetic, political and truly unique production. Set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain, the story follows the laughter and pain of a working-class community and their adoration for Ian Dury and The Blockheads.
Set in 1981, in the midst of a new Tory government and cuts to social welfare, a group of friends comically re-enact their struggle to gain tickets and attend a 1979 Ian Dury and The Blockheads concert. The group perform The Blockheads’ songs live on stage, relating them to their own experiences and creating an energetic atmosphere for the audience.
While the play is often humorous, it also features a cutting social commentary that feels relevant to today’s political world. It is a fitting salute for groups who were marginalised under Thatcher and feels relevant for those today who face uncertainty in the face of cuts to disability allowances and welfare support. Further to this, it is gritty and empowering, as much for disabled people as for women and the working-class. For example, the performance of Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick by the character of Janine, is powerful as both a declaration of strength for disabled people and as an expression of sexual liberation for women.
Angry at the Conservative government, patronised by the UN’s 1981 ‘International Year of Disabled Persons’ and refusing to be pitied, Dury responded to the era by writing the BBC-banned anthem Spasticus Autisticus. The re-creation of this on stage felt important for setting the tone of play, rejecting the often patronising attitude by the government towards people with disabilities.
However, despite addressing these serious themes, the play is extremely uplifting and the joy of the audience was palpable. It was a show that featured a lot of audience interaction with people jumping out of their seats to dance and sing along to the impressive talent displayed by the live band. A moment that particularly stood out was when a majority of the audience rose up to thrust and dance emphatically to Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, a sight that was entertaining to behold.
A key belief of Graeae theatre company is that theatre should be accessible for all. This value was reflected in the decision to include both a projection of the script and sign language throughout the performance. These additions were embedded thoughtfully into the production and felt genuinely connected to the performance.
Overall, Reasons to be Cheerful is an extremely well produced play that thrives off audience interaction and champions diversity. While the humour and music may not appeal to all you’ll be sure to leave with plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
Lucy Carr and Charlotte Perry
(Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Playhouse)