Photo (above) by Patrick Baldwin.
When I found out that Graeae Theatre Company were touring again with Reasons to be Cheerful, I got my ticket faster than you could say “oi oi sausages!”
The ensemble takes us back to 1979 when Margaret Thatcher is in power and the lead character is desperate to see a concert by Ian Dury and the Blockheads.
The show feels like part play, part music gig as the action starts and stops and the rock songs are shared between the characters.
I have to be honest, the plot was very busy. And so was the stage. From the moment the show began, all of the cast members were on stage. All of them spoke, a few signed, and the dialogue was fast and choppy.
It was exciting, no doubt, and the rock vibe was contagious. The musicians were also onstage, a drummer was central and a guitarist/saxophonist and keyboard player were on each side.
The basic story for the show followed Vinnie, the lead character, as he attempted to take his dying Father to a rock concert. Vinnie’s love interest, Janine, dumped her cheating manager boyfriend and joined Vinnie on his quest. They are also with Vinnie’s sidekick, Colin (played by deaf actor Stephen Collins) whose mischievous spirit often stole the show with his hilarious one-liners.
As plots go, I was a little lost at times. The details and many of the characters names were unknown to me because the signing was interchanged. The show also has artistic captions, but they weren’t consistent and at times unclear. They were occasionally covered by images or (worse still) handwritten and illegible for me to read.
I appreciate that the captions looked stylish and fitted in with image of the show, but the meaning was sacrificed. A few times throughout the show used a script format for the captions, where several lines were displayed at the same time. Here, I wasn’t sure who was speaking or whereabouts in the script we were. I much prefer the timed captioning of Stagetext that I’m used to.
But on the occasion when the captions were clear and well timed… they looked AWESOME. Edgy, cool, and down right sexy – the overall style portrayed by the show was perfectly conducive to the era of rebellion.
My favourite part of the show was undoubtedly the songs. If you’ve never seen a punk rock song performed before, oh boy are you in for a treat. A special mention must be given to Stephen Lloyd who played the leader Vinnie. His signing was basic yet clear, and it was his whole punk persona that was incredibly authentic and engaging to watch. He was, hands down, the character I believed in and loved the most. If anyone wants to see what a punk rocker moves like – go and see Stephen Lloyd.
It’s interesting because when I review a show, I’m consciously making notes in my head and watching with a critical mind. But there were times in this show when the choreography was spot on and the music sublime, that I forgot to ‘review’ – I was simply enjoying it. That tells me a lot.
Yes, the show needs to be more consistent with its signed interpretation (some songs weren’t fully translated, and some dialogue was missing too.) The artistic captions need tweaking . And thinking about it, it would be massively helpful if the musicians were on a raised platform for us to always be able to SEE the beat, and see the riffs being played.
But for the quality of the musical pieces, and the gorgeously gritty punk attitude of the whole show, I applaud Graeae wholeheartedly.
It’s not always the signing and the captions and the obvious things that makes a show accessible. Its the visual elements and the vibes that the characters emanate. You can walk into this show mid-song and instantly be transported to the late 70’s. You’ll start tapping your feet, nodding your head, and shouting “sex drugs and rock and roll” if you’re really into it.
The fact that the cast had members with different disabilities wasn’t of great importance to me, or the rest of the audience to be honest. In our eyes, they were all rockers.
So, it wasn’t a perfect show but it was brilliant fun. And since when was punk ever perfect anyway?
Upcoming tour dates:
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 September 2017: Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Check out www.graeae.org for more information!
Review by Rebecca-Anne Withey. Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.
Rebecca-Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health.
She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader.
Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki.
She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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