On the way to Stratford Theatre Royal for an evening of Graeae's raved-about Reasons to be Cheerful - it was bizarre to read a report in the Daily Mail of several Labour MPs using twitter to send messages of support in favour of the students who attacked the Tory headquarters earlier this week. The Labour Party's support of violent action is not unprecedented, of course. They took us into Iraq despite the million march and a national sense of the injustice of waging that war.
Reasons took us further back in time - to the beginnings of Thatcher's reign of power in 1979. It was a nostalgic trip back to the days before the reconstruction of the male psyche. The musical is a full-on, energy packed evening, reveling in Ian Dury’s up-front obsession with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Graeae's cast of ne'er-do-wells were totally up-for-it - using BSL and captioning to give further emphasis to the pure inventiveness of Dury's lyrics. The show was a wonderful tribute to the man as a poet of his time. His songs are full of characters on the periphery of society, like Plaistow Patricia - ducking and diving in the pursuit of "a little bit of this and little bit of that! Oh Oh!"
The story tells the tale of Vinnie, his mate Colin – doing all they can to get tickets to see Dury at the Hammy Palais in 1981 – Vinnie’s mum Pat and his dad Bob. Bob lives a parallel life to that of Dury himself. He is dying of cancer and yearning for younger days of love, made to the music of one of Dury’s heroes - Gene Vincent.
It is a simple tale of ordinary folk, nicely pivoted around a tender rendition of 'My Old Man' - telling the story of a father and son come together in front of death’s curtain:
Seven years went out the window
We met as one to one
Died before we'd done much talking
Relations had just begun
All the while we thought about each other
All the best mate, from your son
All the best mate, from your son
My old man
And of course, Reasons is a tale about disability – reaching a crescendo towards the end of the first half with the ground-breaking Spasticus Autisticus:
Hello to you out there in Normal Land
You may not comprehend my tale or understand
As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks
You can be my body but you'll never read my books
Dury’s comment on invisibility of disabled peoples’ voices is as relevant now as it was back in the early eighties. Thatcher’s reinventing of British society around the values of consumerism has now reached its apex. Disabled people in residential care are now labeled ‘customers’ who receive ‘services’ – as if care was just another commodity to be valued by quantity.
Reasons draws conclusions about similarities in the political climate now – with the cuts to benefits, beginning to undermine disabled peoples’ independence. But the world is much more complex with the flow of information afforded by the internet.
In Thatcher’s time, everything was a foregone conclusion, with tight, unrelenting control of the media at the heart of her campaign to change the way we think and feel. What’s going to happen next? Will there be fisticuffs in the House?
Hopefully, at the very least, Graeae will get an opportunity to do a further run of Reasons to be Cheerful at a theatre near you!
Reasons to Be Cheerful ends its run at Royal Theatre, Stratford, London on 13 November 2010