I was never a punk, nor a punk fan, but a punk ‘musical’ has absolutely won my heart as the best piece of theatre to come out of Northern Ireland this year. Good Vibrations is the stage story of punk music maestro Terri Hooley and it runs at The Lyric Theatre until 06 October. Written (brilliantly) by Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry, the story - although a local one - transcends Belfast and tells a tale which I believe would work wonders in the West End in London or beyond. Yes really, it’s that good.
If you’ve read the book or seen the movie of the same name, or indeed if you know real life Terri (as so many in Belfast do), you’ll know that key to this story is the fact that Hooley is both heroic and tragic at the same time. He has loveable-rogue characteristics but is also renowned for being almost pathetic yet optimistic when it comes to handling money and relationships - so you feel both sympathy and frustration for him as he tornadoes through life making bad decision after bad decision (mostly because he puts principle over profit); but all the while he is having a bloody good time, so that, despite the series of calamities and fuck ups in his personal and commercial life, you cant help but love him.
Terri’s record store, (Good Vibrations) his gigs and DJ stints plus his relentless promoting (to little gain except notoriety) of punk bands like The Outcasts, The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers - among others - all happened as the city almost literally burned down around him during The Troubles, so you cant help but admire his tenacity and rebellious, almost anarchic nature in the face of paramilitaries and a looming police presence.
Aaron McCusker captures his character amazingly well. Just like Terri, he is swash-buckling and cavalier to the point of recklessness, but so very charismatic in the role. Sean Kearns shows great versatility across a number of roles, including Hooley’s father, George, as well as a pretty menacing RUC officer, an unpleasant Orangeman, and the late BBC DJ John Peel. He plays each of these roles excellently and provides the yin to the yang of the punk sounds and actions of the rest of the play. I especially loved him as John Peel at Hooley’s famous Ulster Hall gig towards the end of the second act.
Niamh Perry plays a blinder as Hooley’s wife. Her character is lovable but mostly meek and constantly walked over throughout Terri’s life, however Niamh delivers the character well - almost entirely matched to her real life nature - balancing both a gentleness and a steely determination. Christina Nelson is epic as always in a number of roles - including Hooley’s mum.
One of the things that make this show so special is the music, all performed live by the cast, so it’s no mean feat that musical director Katie Richardson also plays an acting role - her portrayal of Marilyn is very strong, but like most of the cast she had several roles. I haven’t listed them all, but the talent on stage merge and flow so brilliantly to create a seamless production as the small cast swap character, instruments, acting and singing.
So hats off to director Des Kennedy who has created a play with a perfect balance of turbulence, tension and tenderness but which stays true to the story and delivers an entertaining and uplifting show.
Terri Hooley himself took to the stage at the end of the preview show that I attended, joined by two of the original Outcasts, one of whom is my chum Greg Cowan. I’m beaming with the pride one feels for a friend in their glory moment. Hooley shouts out “Power to the people!,” at the end of his impassioned speech and the audience respond with an ecstatic cheer.
If I were a theatre doctor, I would prescribe a dose of this play for anyone and everyone.
The story of Terri Hooley
Lyric Theatre until 6th October 2018.