Fitting tribute to Ian Dury

The Life And Rhymes Of Ian Dury

Playback Arts

Zoo Theatre, Edinburgh


As a fan of the late Ian Dury it’s a relief to discover this play about the disabled pop star is a gem, writes Mark Drinkwater.

It has an authentic feel to it, in no small part because the dialogue in Jeff Merrifield’s two-hander is pieced together from interviews given by Dury and his friends. The two actors, Jud Charlton as Dury and Josh Darcy, who plays his bruising minder Fred “Spider” Rowe, give totally believable performances with electrifying dialogue as they verbally spar with each other.

The play starts with Dury explaining to Rowe the life events that shaped him. Hospitalised as a young boy with polio, Dury wore callipers to aid walking for the rest of his life. He was sent to a fierce residential school before attending a grammar school where he had to endure the nickname Spastic Joe. Faced with this back-story the audience gains insight into why Dury acquired defence mechanisms that, at times, made him difficult and contradictory.

But alcohol was Dury’s downfall. His drunken antics would get him into scrapes on tour and it would be Rowe’s job to return the singer to his hotel room and confiscate his leg irons so he couldn’t return to the bar.

This production includes a few toe-tapping Dury numbers sung faithfully by Charlton and backed by recordings by Dury’s original Blockheads band. I would have liked the play to have made more of Dury’s forthright songs about disability. He never shied away from his impairments and his stage persona incorporated, rather than hid, his disability. In 1981, he even recorded the uncompromising Spasticus (Autisticus) for the UN International Year of Disabled Persons – a song that the BBC banned.

Dury died in 2000 and this show is a fitting tribute, a tale of a unique individual who confounded expectations.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

This article appeared in the 11 September edition of Community Care under the headline Waving the Rhythm Stick

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