Reviewed – 11th December 2019
“a wonderful display of talented performances with a script not quite up to scratch”
A tragedy doesn’t just befall the victim in the middle, it happens to so many people. One Under explores the effects of loss, ownership of grief, and the sometimes-bizarre ways we deal with it, whether we knew the person or not.
Sonny (Reece Pantry), a good-natured and well-loved young man full of potential, jumps in front of a train. His mother (Shenagh Govan) and sister (Evlyne Oyedokun) are left to manage their understandable grief. Train driver Cyrus (Stanley J. Browne) finds himself incapable of moving past the incident, and takes on the mystery of Sonny’s suicide, insistent that the story is more complicated than it might seem. We’re also privy to Sonny’s last day before his death, in which he decides to anoint himself the guardian angel of Christine (Clare-Louise English), a complete stranger.
The story works best when we’re unsure of how it will all piece together. Dialogue is playful and snappy; various relationships are displayed organically, painting a true-to-life image. But as soon as we reach an attempt at clarity- I’d say about an hour in- it all starts to drag a little. Each plotline is too complex to meet any other with any kind of harmony, as though writer Winsome Pinnock had lots of ideas, but no ending in mind.
The first ten minutes are also distractingly confusing, as Govan plays both a jaded fellow train driver trying to down-play Sonny’s death, and, in the following scene, his grieving mother. It’s unclear for too long that these are two different people. I’m sure casting director Sarah Hughes was working to a budget, but maybe next time splash out and get someone to step in for the first role. That being said, Hughes has done a splendid job otherwise. Govan as the mother perfectly balances force and affection; her relationships with both her children seem well-worn and honest. Pantry is spectacular, showing the full range of someone on the brink. English, too, expresses incredible nuance, full of kindness whilst distrustful of others’ good nature.
The scenery (Amelia Jane Hankin), though very pretty, doesn’t work. Two free-standing wooden shelves bow over the stage, carefully curated with plants and artfully stacked books. Scenes come and go in various locations, and I’m waiting for the backdrop to make sense. It’s possible it suits a scene in a hotel, or maybe Sonny’s flat, but the story takes place in a bunch of different places, so it really doesn’t make sense even if it were either of those, and it’s unclear either way.
The main trouble, though, is that within this one play, Pinnock has enough material for a series, following various characters, each with their own story, each suffering in their own private way. But in attempting to squeeze it in to one plot under two hours, she’s lost the thread. I would love to see this story properly unpacked, but for now, One Under, as directed by Amit Sharma, is a wonderful display of talented performances with a script not quite up to scratch.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Patrick Baldwin
Arcola Theatre until 21st December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reasons to be Cheerful
The pioneering disabled-led theatre company Graeae has confirmed tour dates and venues for the return of their acclaimed musical Reasons to be Cheerful, which will hit the road this autumn. Following a hugely successful tour in 2012 which was seen by almost 12,000 people and a series of concert performances last year, this joyful and defiant production will visit seven regions around the country, kicking off at the Belgrade, Coventry on 4 September and rounding off the tour with a two week run at Theatre Royal, Stratford East in London.
First seen in 2010, Reasons to be Cheerful has gone onto play at theatres and festivals across the UK, in stadiums around the world, and even in front of HM The Queen. “Spasticus Autisticus”, the Ian Dury-penned disability rights anthem which features in the show, was performed by the cast at the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony and, despite being banned by the BBC in 1981, broadcast worldwide in front of an audience of over 1 billion.
This coming of age tale rejoices in the infectious and enduring music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Featuring stone-cold classic songs including Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick; Plaistow Patricia; Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll; Sweet Gene Vincent; What A Waste and the titular Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3), this show is loud, bold and jubilant.
The parallels with the show’s 1979 setting are clear. Today, as nationwide cuts continue to impact on the lives of d/Deaf and disabled people, Graeae Theatre Company puts them centre stage. As a prominent disabled activist, Ian Dury was a patron and staunch supporter of Graeae. The extraordinary wit and wisdom of Ian Dury and the Blockheads music and lyrics are brought to life by an inclusive cast of 15 actors and musicians.
It is 1979. Labour has just lost the General Election to the Tories. Strikes rock the nation and Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) is climbing the charts. Die-hard fans Vinnie and Colin are on a mission to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads play Hammersmith Odeon. With no tickets to a sold-out gig their journey throws more at them than they could have ever expected….
Using Graeae’s signature theatrical language, all performances of Reasons to be Cheerful seamlessly include British Sign Language, audio description and creative captioning.
Jenny Sealey, Director of Reasons to be Cheerful and Artistic Director at Graeae Theatre Company, said;
‘I am beyond thrilled that our Reasons to be Cheerful gang are dusting off their Dr. Martens and going back out on the road one final time in a new production of our hit show, thanks to support from Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund. We will be well and truly raising the roof up and down the country with the brilliantly anarchic music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, whose punk sentiment speaks louder than ever as we fight against the brutal cuts that Deaf and disabled people, and millions of others, have faced in recent years.’
Jemima Dury, daughter of Ian Dury, said;
‘I’m so excited for everyone who will see Reasons to Be Cheerful on this 2017 tour You are in for a treat! It’s energizing, it’s moving and it’s enormous fun. It comes as close as you can get to a 1979 Ian Dury and the Blockheads gig. Graeae gives us diverse, accessible theatre at its best. This is how all theatre should be!’
Chaz Jankel, original Blockhead and co-writer of many songs in the show, said;
‘It is amazing to think that 37 years after Ian and I wrote Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3), the song still has such an impact and sounds so fresh. The Blockheads still perform it at every gig and the vibe in the audience and on stage definitely goes up a couple of notches as we lock in our reasons to be cheerful groove! The Graeae production has added a whole new lease of life to the song and legacy of Ian Dury. The extraordinary energy and skill that the cast bring to this original musical production is edgy yet heartwarming and mesmerising. The respect they have for Ian’s lyrics and lust for life is undeniable. If Ian were alive I am sure he would be laughing his head off and applauding the bravura of this very talented ensemble.’
An extensive community engagement programme will take place alongside this production, inviting original protest songs for a generation to be included in the show’s tour. For further information, email email@example.com
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK BALDWIN IS FROM THE 2012 TOUR OF THE SHOW
Reasons to be Cheerful was first performed in autumn 2010 with original co-producers New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Theatre Royal Stratford East.
This tour is supported by Arts Council England through their Strategic Touring Fund.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
Friday 8 & Saturday 9 September
Belgrade Theatre Coventry
024 7655 3055
On Sale Now
Tuesday 12 – Saturday 16 September
01332 59 39 39
On Sale Now
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 September
Nuffield Theatre, Southampton
023 8067 1771
On Sale Soon
Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 October
New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
Pre-Sale 29th March
On Sale 15th April
Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 October
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
0113 213 7700
On Sale Soon
Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 October
0151 709 4776
On Sale Soon
Tuesday 24 October – Saturday 4 November
Theatre Royal Stratford East
020 8534 0310
On Sale Now