Good Vibrations | Review
The show runs at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until Saturday 6 October.
Words: Conor O’Neill
Terri Hooley’s life has been immortalised on the big screen and amidst rave reviews from all the broadsheets across the water, who would have thought that screenwriters Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson would tinkle away for another couple of years and adapt the film to stage? Well they have and The Lyric’s Danske Bank stage will rock n groan under the weight of the eleven talented actors, most playing multiple parts, until 6 October. In my memory very few, if any, shows have been given such a lengthy run.
Going by tonight’s performance, the actors will have time to feel at ease with their surroundings, packed houses will be the norm. If you’re unaware of the Hooley story and have never seen the film, here’s a quick synopsis: it’s the 70s, Belfast, and indeed the entire north of Ireland is killing itself, literally. No bands will tour Northern Ireland leading to an insular, and some might argue, incestuous scene. Terri – he dropped the ‘y’ of the normal spelling due to losing an eye playing Cowboys and Indians as a child – DJs at The Harp bar and is exposed to the punk explosion and how well it fits with war-torn Northern Ireland. His patter, strikingly acted by Aaron McCusker (King Caspian, King Lear, Jamie Maguire (Shameless, Backdraft II) is a little older than the groups he signed but even today there’s a little glint in his ‘good eye’ suggesting mischief is never far from his mind.
As the Lyric fills, reggae plays us in. The set is that of a dirty Belfast street, namely Great Victoria Street or ‘Bomb Alley’. There’s a closed shop-shutter, some amp cases and little else. Grace Smart’s design sees it move from Belfast Street, to The Harp bar, London, The Ulster Hall and living room of his mum and dad’s house.
His patter for talking him into and out of tight spots also gets him a girlfriend, Ruth Carr. Niahm Perry’s, whose credits include, Sophie in Mama Mia, A Song Cycle For Soho and on TV in I’d Do Anything; Frankenstein’s Wedding and Out Of The Blue, Ruth seems to be the only thing grounding the young Hooley with his three main bands: Rudi, The Outcasts and The Undertones. Dylan Reid’s Fergal Sharkey is a prancing, annoying, self-obsessed teen – one reason, according to punk folklore why Hooley dithered over signing the group – but history will thank him for it.
Arriving back from another strut around London trying to get deals for his bands, only to be shown the door, Hooley’s mood changes as the then already legendary, John Peel, played by Sean Kearns, plays Teenage Kicks back-to-back. Ruth, now Terri’s wife, while happy with his success finds herself in a moral dilemma. Terri, due to long hours and wild ways, finds himself almost financially and physically broke. The bands are demanding more, his personal life is on the line.
But it’s not all grim. The music is superb. All of the cast, excluding Christine Nelson (Terri and Fergal’s mother) and Sean Kearns (Terri’s dad and John Peel) seem to be doubly gifted as both fine actors and capable musicians. The once closed shutter of the shop’s front opens at least six times to reveal bands thumping out Alternative Ulster, Good Vibrations and of course Teenage Kicks. What was a surprise for me – I’ve yet to watch the movie – was Happy House by Siouxsie and the Banshees and aptly, and equally surprisingly, a Hank Williams impersonator sings I Saw The Light on Hooley’s first listen of Teenage Kicks.
Des Kennedy’s direction, along with choreographer, Jennifer Rooney, Michael Bradley’s sound design and musical direction, along with an uber talented young cast will rock all of September, the first week of October and if tonight was anything to go by, this will not be Good Vibrations’ only run.
After a standing ovation, a curtain-call and the whole place bouncing to Teenage Kicks, who else but Hooley to get the final words in. After thanking just about everyone in the phonebook and Yellow Pages combined, Terri, and could that possibly be a tear running from his good eye? Leaves us with the immortal: “Jah, Jah, Rastafari, Ulster Fry!”