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Jukebox musicals tend get a mixed reception. If you love the band or the era around which the show is based then you’re halfway to loving the show. But the repeated criticism is that, all too often, the plots are as substantial as a silver Rizla, with the resulting show little more than a tribute act with props. I’ll happily admit that I’m not much of a fan, but that’s undoubtedly because the music featured is seldom that which I’d choose to listen to.
The exceptions for me are easy to remember. Five Guys Named Mo, featuring the music of Louis Jordan, was a treat, partially because I was only vaguely familiar with his catalogue at the time, and I’m delighted to hear that the West Yorkshire Playhouse are giving The Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith a national tour in 2018 (although, disappointingly, there are currently no plans to bring it to East Anglia). But topping my exceptionally short list of beloved Juke box musicals is a show which premiered in Ipswich.
Reasons To Be Cheerful perfectly encapsulated the bollox to you and DIY attitude of early punk. I doubt anyone who was at that first performance at the New Wolsey will forget it, I know the cast will not. Stephen Lloyd, who played Vinnie, the Dury fan desperate to get tickets to the gig, told me that the wild reaction they got that night, with people on their feet, signing Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll and demanding more encores, assured them that they really did have a show. Given the unity of the cast and crew, their conviction and attitude, I’d never believed it was in doubt.
I’ve seen Reasons twice more since that opening night and its energy, aesthetic and attitude has overwhelmed me every time. There’s another chance to see Reasons this month in Ipswich as Reasons is at the New Wolsey from the 3rd – 7th October. It looks as though many of the original cast and crew will be returning and if you’ve ever so much as thought about flicking the vees at authority, then you’ll love it.
One of the aspects of Reasons which made it so memorable was the writing. The dialogue was sharp and authentic and placed the music as an integral part of the narrative, rather than a bolted on appendage. Writer Paul Sirett (who also brought Iron Man and Mods and Rox to Ipswich) has two shows at the Wolsey this month as his new show, Oxy & The Morons, which he has co-written with Mike Peters of The Alarm and Steve Allan Jones who, in addition to being a composer, has played keyboards for The Alarm and Spear of Destiny, plays from the 12th to the 21st.
Presented by Graeae Theatre Company (who also created Reasons To Be Cheerful), in association with the Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Oxy & The Morons is a brand new punk musical which rages against the dying of the fight. It concerns Andy, a former punk, who, following a routine check-up which leads to a startling diagnosis, decides to put his old band back together and party like its 1978! However the former members of Oxy & the Morons, a band which burned fiercely before exploding in a riot of rivalry, jealousy and bitter betrayal, are less than enthusiastic. Andy’s mission involves twisting arms, healing wounds and putting his family and friendships back together. But can that punk spirit of DIY defiance be rekindled over thirty years later? Can you still pogo when your knees go? Will they play their trademark punk take of It’s Not Unusual as an encore?
We’re promised a fast, furious and very funny, riot of a show which, given Paul Sirett’s CV, and the fact that direction is in the hands of Peter Rowe, the artistic director at the New Wolsey, is a promise I fully expect to be fulfilled. The show features a machine gun playlist of original songs and this spikily affectionate look back at the halcyon days of punk looks to have all the ingredients required for a top night out. Reasons To Be Cheerful always felt like a hybrid between a show and a gig and Oxy looks to be razored in the same fashion.
As I write there are still £10 tickets available on 01473 295 900 or via https://www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/oxy-the-morons.