A bunch of misfit spectres led by a cockney guardian angel. Peculiar and wise Raspberry doesn’t tell the tale, it screams it at you.
The Oval Theatre is a tiny place, filled with the promise of amateur productions and extrovert drama students. They serve wine in plastic cups and occasionally show the footie on the cafe’s plasma screens. This is the kind of theatre that Ian Dury might have approved of. Fortunate then that Raspberry’s debut was here, a musical inspired by his life and music.
Fittings Multimedia is an experimental theatre group who explore perceptions of disability. They have a gate crasher style towards the creative industries, an ‘in your face’ attitude which intimidates at the same time as creatively enthusing new work.
Advertised as gothic macabre, entering the theatre I genuinely thought (with a huge dollop of glee) that I might have nightmares. As the musical takes off though, I started to get the impression of an over-developed performance art piece. Something that will only truly make sense to the performer. A strange and sadomasochistic beginning, I regretfully acknowledge that I would not be having nightmares.
Of course what the audience was waiting for was the arrival of Spasticus, the character of Ian Dury based on one of his most controversial and popular songs. Played brilliantly by Garry Robson, Spasticus brought meaning and narrative to this ramshackle tribute play. Other characters seemed to be plucked out of convenience or crude links. Such as Ray, a blind keyboardist. Guess who that’s meant to be, even if the actress was female. Or Einstein the hairy drummer, that must have been a last minute it’s-three-in-the-morning decision.
Shades of Tim Burton in the staging and the story, this was basically a fairy tale with the misfortune of having no villain, except possibly for idea’s of normalcy. The plot revolves around a girl nicknamed Raspberry who cannot walk “properly”. Her father, a blacksmith is trying to fix her whether she wants it or not. So in comes her guardian angel Spasticus and his elaborate and eccentric band line up. Through songs based on Ian Dury’s music, Spasticus shows that perfection is not in the eye of the beholder but up some pretentious preacher’s arse.
This is an overly sentimental play which misses on some aspects of Ian Dury’s music and lifestyle. He was portrayed excellently. And the audience participation in singing “I love to be a cripple” was satisfying and cathartic. However there was a lack of anarchy. A lack of venom. There was so much forgiveness and jovial anecdotes, I couldn’t help but wonder when the dark side would come through. Face it, if the heavens sent Ian Dury as my guiding spectre he’d probably nut my dad, get me drunk and cop a feel. I’m sure that would be fun, but the portrayal of this wise and dear fairy godmother figure was a little saccharine for my tastes.
What’s more the play didn’t have enough transition, it went from one state to another hoping that a chalkboard and a cockney song would show the change. The haphazard resolution of the musical came as an abrupt halt. A much shorter play than I expected, it needed at least 20 minutes more and maybe an interval for the story to find fruition.
Nevertheless what the musical did do was be wonderfully sarcastic and confrontational. It raised good questions concerning the fashionableness of certain diseases, the way pop culture represents them and translates them. Additionally touching upon issues of faith and religion, the musical wanted to consistently challenge the audience’s perceptions.
In the long run this is a quirky performance by a great assemblage of talented artists. The play, though a bit on the sensitive side for a gothic punk romp, still was twisted enough to stick in the mind. I’ll leave you with one last statement from the play. This line encapsulates my review and is where Spasticus shows his and Dury’s full colours
I’m floating in perpetual harmony and I fucking hate it.
Play by Gary Robson
Directed by Gordon Dougall
Tuesday 1st February 2011 – Saturday 19th February 2011 (Oval Theatre)
To read more by Ruth Carlisle: click here.