Posts Tagged ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’

My Nostalgic Reasons to be Cheerful

Reasons to be Cheerful is inclusive theatre company Graeae’s latest touring production, an Ian Dury musical packed with energy, emotion and a little politics. You can read a full description of the show here. (Including BSL synopsis).

I originally saw the show last year at Theatre Royal Stratford East and was blown away. Recently I was lucky enough to get a ticket (which by sheer luck was generously upgraded) to see round 2 at the Hackney Empire.

Since their run last year my life has crossed paths with the performers in the show and friendships have been formed. Therefore I feel I am unable to give a balanced review as I felt the show truly was fan-bloody-tastic. And by the look of the crowd around me pumping their arms and shaking their hips to Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick , they were inclined to agree. However, what I can do is relay to you my personal and emotional response to the show.

Recently, I feel something has changed for me as an audience member, the cause of this is unknown. Possibilities are my maturity, or that I’m experiencing better and more relevant theatre. Whatever the cause something magical happened for me sat in the circle of the Hackney Empire. Admittedly, in this instance it helped that I knew the show and some of the cast.

Before the show really gets going the audience enter the auditorium to find the cast milling around the stage and in the stalls, handing out twiglets and having a chinwag. (Last year I ended up with a bowl of crisps that I tried to pass on to other audience members, who then assumed I was part of the show, cue an awkward moment before contemplating finding some doc Ms and jumping up on stage).Beyond the proscenium arch, the set clearly depicted a 1970’s pub and although I was still a little way from being a concept in my parent’s mind in the 1970’s I have strong memories of being taken to the local pub for a Sunday lunch as a child.

"Can I be in the band?"

"Can I be in the band?"

I clearly remember the awful patterned carpet complete with stains and smells, it always seemed to be covered in dog hair, although I don’t ever remember there being a dog! I loved the smell of stale beer and tobacco that filled the place and the way everyone seemed to know me, although I didn’t know them. I remember the way bad language and poor English was casually thrown around and a good old knees up (can I just take a moment to congratulate Spicer on her wonderfully energetic dancing and clapping throughout).They are strangely fond memories which came flooding back and I felt at home.

As the play went on, other themes that I could identify with cropped up, the obvious two being disability and the cuts. Regarding disability, the first time I saw Spasticus Autisticus performed I didn’t really like it. It didn’t feel like it was for me. It felt like it was disabled people against me and I remember feeling quite uncomfortable. Since last year my opinion has changed, I have gained an understanding of the song. I have come to realise that although I do not have a disability, I work in the sector and in turn I’m part of the Disability Arts Movement and their revolution, not on the other side. In a way, I am Spasticus! Oi oi!

Reasons to be Cheerful for me was a real emotional experience that allowed me to look at my life in an almost autobiographical way whilst having a good old knees up. Leaving Hackney Empire to see my mate’s giant head (on a poster, his head is a pretty standard size) I couldn’t help but grin. ‘Ave it!

The same pic in The Stage that was on the side of the Hackney Empire

Integrating a Signer in Performance

Recently, I spent two weeks at The Orpheus Centre – here I should put a tag line to describe the centre for you, something very politically correct and concise. However, I’m going to go for… The Orpheus Centre – an inclusive, innovative performing arts centre and lifeskills college/a big inspiring bunch of fun! The Orpheus Centre put on a Christmas show every year that is written, designed and performed by the students. Having been involved with a few Orpheus projects over the last couple of years, I know how much fun it can be and just had to get in on the action so I volunteered to sign the songs of the show in performance.


As soon as the song lyrics were written by the students they were emailed to me so I could work on the translation. I have to admit that I may have slightly underestimated the songwriting talents at the Orpheus Centre as I gazed at the beautiful and complex metaphors on my laptop screen at home, wondering how to sufficiently do this justice in Sign Language. Nevertheless I relished the challenge and prepared myself for the two weeks of excitement of rehearsals and performances.

I arrived to meet the cast and discover who plays the various characters in the show. I asked the director if the cast could create sign names for their characters as this would be useful to incorporate into the songs but also promotes some deaf culture awareness. As the cast have been working on characterisation, who better to develop a sign name than the actors themselves. Sometimes, as a Sign Language Communicator I find myself using the same sign too often rather than expressing things in different ways. A group of performers were playing the baddies, they all came up with different signs and gestures to express their characters which furthered my understanding of this group of characters, providing the

creativity to use signs other than ‘bad’. This exercise got the performers thinking about their characters, trying to sum them up in one sign and could be useful to other theatre groups as a dramatic exercise or to aid the inclusivity of performance.

I solidified my decision to sign the songs only as all involved wanted the sign language to be as integrated as possible, meaning I would have a character and costume not just be plonked on the side of the stage. My focus was on using sign language creatively in performance to provide some access and promote deaf accessibility to an audience.

Getting Stuck In

There were rumours of a rap in the show, slightly daunting to sign but I went along to the rehearsal to hear this created for the first time. Having recently seen Graeae’s Reasons to be Cheerful I was inspired by the way the integrated interpreter had fun with signing Ian Dury’s anarchic songs and decided to throw myself into the spirit of things. The rehearsal, lead by a very talented musical director was such a playful atmosphere. The students and musicians experimented with different ways to structure the song, this is very different from how I remember music where things were set in stone, so many musical laws and Italian terms to obey. In addition to the musical composition, I got to observe a rehearsal of a song with unfinished lyrics. Wonderfully poetic lyric writing happened so quickly and as the signer I really wanted to do this poetry justice. Song lyrics are often difficult to translate as you have to search for the meaning but observing the lyric writing process really helped me to create some visually pleasing and meaningful signs to accompany the song in performance.

Once I had polished the translation and committed it to memory my confidence was on the rise. Now to work on giving it some oomph! I was still buzzing from Graeae’s Reasons to be Cheerful

– If you didn’t see it then you really missed out. In my opinion it really raised the bar for disability led theatre, it was just a massively enjoyable piece of theatre. The interpreter in role was fab and donned fish net tights, a tartan mini skirt and Doc Martins – a huge contrast from your standard theatre terps! She made it look so easy though so I guess the secret is to just have fun with it. Enjoy it, stay in role and hopefully that will translate to the audience, BSL users or not.
Act 1 Beginners to the Stage

The gloves are just to keep my hands warm!

As a signer it’s great when you are given a costume. However, I did feel slightly guilty taking it back and asking for some alterations,

I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. A lot of people don’t realise that what a signer wears is really important, when I started as a Sign Language Communicator my funky patterned tops were relegated to the depths of my wardrobe. So when I was given a white blouse to wear I needed to explain that next to my snowflake skin I would just be a moving white blob. The rule of thumb is to wear a plain top that stands out from your skin colour.

In performance I had some really nice interactions with the cast, which is the icing on the cake to integration. I have seen many performances where I am convinced that I have seen the occasional evil glare in the direction of the SLI as if they are competing for the audience’s attention. I can understand this, as an actor you want to captivate your audience, especially during that all important Shakespearean soliloquy. The visual language at the side of the stage can be a distraction. But tough! Both actor and SLI are professionals providing a service. I do not believe that the SLI should dumb it down so as not to interfere with the performance, that just creates more barriers, and besides, terps only terp off the energy of the speaker. Yet another challenge I came across was that the integrated signer in role needs to run off their own energy and find their own character in addition to interpreting the songs for other characters.

The Finale

The show had great feedback and tickets were sold out for almost every performance. I had a fantastic time working with The Orpheus Centre and I hope I did your show justice! I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

To find out more about The Orpheus Centre click here

A big thank you to Sarah Carew and Kai Takatsu for the use of their photographs.


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