Good Vibrations – Lyric Theatre– Review by Cathy Brown
01 Sept – 06 Oct
Terri Hooley is a Belfast legend. The Godfather of Belfast Punk – his reputation was cemented by the 2012 award-winning film Good Vibrations. Now, screenwriters Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry have adapted their feel-good film for the stage to great success, perfectly capturing the anarchy, vibrancy and sheer joy of the story of Terri Hooley and the rise of punk in Belfast during the 1970s.
For the uninitiated, Terri Hooley lost an eye at the age of 6 in a game of ‘Cowboys and Indians’; became a DJ at the Harp Bar before opening a socialist record shop in the middle of the Troubles in ‘bomb alley’ on Great Victoria Street, Belfast. A punk epiphany led to him becoming a promoter to Rudi, The Outcasts and The Undertones. All this suggests great success, but Terri was never good on the financials and never made a penny from his calling. As his father says in the play ‘Victory does not always look how the people imagine it’.
Good Vibrations shouldn’t really work on the stage, yet it does. The story has at its core that traditional ‘let’s do the show right here’ cliché, but the back drop of the political situation in Northern Ireland, replete with overhead helicopters, protection money and bomb scares, gives the drama the necessary edge to keep it exciting.
The production also doesn’t shy away from Terri’s failings, both personally and professionally and this lovable rogue can at times be hard to love. Aaron McCusker, as Terri, perfectly captures the swagger, determination and infectious enthusiasm of the man in his trademark long overcoat, while Niamh Perry as his long-suffering wife Ruth works well with a part that could have come across as underwritten were it not for her emotional performance.
The rest of the cast play multiple parts with aplomb and although some of the performances may be rough around the edges, it suits the production to a tee. Sean Kearns plays Terri’s father with surprising sensitivity, while his brief turn as John Peel is highly entertaining.
Christina Nelson is fantastic as both the mother of Terri and the mother of Fergal Sharkey, but almost steals the show with her hilarious turn as a nun who is slightly confused about whether the Outcasts need our applause or our prayers.
The striking set, designed by the talented Grace Smart transforms with ease from living room to shop, Harp Bar to Ulster Hall. The metallic shutter door at the rear rising and falling to reveal a full band is a particularly enjoyable touch.
It would be wrong to class Good Vibrations as a musical, but music is at its heart. The talented cast play and sing live throughout the action under the musical direction of Katie Richardson. All the songs you would expect are here – Good Vibrations, Alternative Ulster and the ‘national anthem’ Teenage Kicks – but it is the unexpected numbers that are the ones with the most impact.
Happy House by Siouxsie and the Banshees is performed as Terri’s home and professional life are falling apart and the moment he hears Teenage Kicks for the first time is depicted, not with Teenage Kicks itself, but instead with Hank Williams’ ‘I Saw the Light’.
For a production that makes a running joke out of not letting Terri Hooley start a story lest you be there all night, it was fitting that Terri Hooley himself took to the stage on opening night to celebrate the production, his home-town and, of course, the music.
Good Vibrations is one of those unmissable productions that comes along once in a blue moon and the Lyric have played a blinder opening their Autumn season with one of the most exciting shows to take to their stage in a long time. Tightly scripted by Patterson and Carberry, ingeniously directed by Des Kennedy and performed with an infectious, anarchist energy by this striking young cast it is a production full of heart, full of soul and full of the punk spirit that inspired it.