Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Raspberry

Garry Robson, music by Leigh Stirling
Fittings Multimedia Arts, Limelight Studios and Tron Theatre
Oval House Theatre
(2011)

Raspberry production photo

Sometimes the message of a play is subtly slipped amongst the words, sometimes it’s predominately woven into the drama. But when a production is predominately message and not much drama, it can feel like you’re being beaten over the head with it.

Raspberry is an hour long rant about disability. Rita’s father wants to ‘fix’ her, beating at the callipers on her legs with a hammer and swearing he has a gift, she’ll thank him when she’s fixed. In her despair, Ian Dury comes to give her some advice, accompanied by a white, female Ray Charles on the piano, Bob on the guitar and Albert Einstein on the drums (why? erm...)

The main point behind the piece - don’t try to fix us - is obvious from the off, but it isn’t enough to sustain an hour long production. Although the music by Leigh Sterling is good and there is some all round good singing and very strong harmonies from the cast, without much plot or subtlety the show feels empty.

It may be harsh to compare the show to Reasons to be Cheerful, which appeared last year at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, but that show went right in all the places where this one went wrong. Also based on Ian Dury and using his songs, that cast of actors with disabilities presented a chaotic, energetic and uplifting show. The narrative was simple but effective and the show focused on what the actors could do rather than what they couldn’t. In contrast, Raspberry songs were all based on disability. One song states that ‘all you can see is a raspberry’, but with disability so heavily in the foreground and not much to back it up, it’s hard to understand what the company wants us to see instead. Whereas Reasons to be Cheerful said ‘a disability is not who I am; this is who I am’, Raspberry only got as far as ‘a disability is not who I am’. Whereas in Reasons to be Cheerful there were a group of actors putting on a good show, Raspberry has a group of actors with disabilities having a bit of a moan.

Moan is maybe the wrong word as a lot of the show harnesses the same joyful, chaotic energy of Ian Dury. Garry Robson, the show’s writer who plays Dury (and was also in Reasons to be Cheerful), grins maniacally as he belts out the songs with gusto. He is backed up by some excellent and lively playing from the band.

However, some of the songs are a bit misplaced. After a sing-a-long to 'I Like Being A Cripple' (and fresh out of panto season, forcing the audience into more sing-a-longs is maybe not the best of ideas), the tone shifts dramatically in oI Only Went Swimmin''. From liking the way he is to lamenting about how he got that way is a bit of a contradiction.

Although the message behind the show is a good one, the script has not enough subtlety or plot to drive it home.

Reviewer: Emma Berge