REVIEW: Good Vibrations

Let's start by talking about songs – the two songs that effectively bookend the turbulent travails of Belfast punk legend Terri Hooley in the Lyric Theatre's production of Good Vibrations, adapted from their film script to the stage by Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry. How Rudi and the Outcasts' Big Time, and Sonny Bono's Laugh At Me, gives this 'Hooleygan' a spiritual awakening as a punter and a showman, opening his and our eyes to the power of punk not solely as music but also as message. As a statement for a sort of freedom, an literally Alternative Ulster to a controlling, bureaucratic establishment that, in this context, can't own you if they don't buy you.

See, in Good Vibrations, our own longing for momentary freedom. The desire for the unique energy rush that only a certain kind of music can provide, however brief it may be. And how, in Hooley, even unpleasant aspects can be presented in a paradoxically appealing manner: thoughtless, vulgar, irresponsible yet unfailingly loveable. Hooley is a profound impact on our culture for the same reason as Lisa McGee's Derry Girls: one likes these guys, and girls, because for all their flippancy and foolishness, they're part of our fabric. They're ours. We are with them every step of the way in their desire to battle against odds envisioned in a world they neither fully believe or belong in.

That is the thrust of Good Vibrations in theatre, a production that proves to be just as enjoyable and absorbing as the film version. Patterson and Carberry have worked with director Des Kennedy and one of the best casts of the year to successfully capture the power and essence of the messages within a vibrant cauldron of hopes and fears.

Plenty of which inhabit the life of Terri with an "i" (because he lost one eye in childhood – get it?) in his seemingly never-ending quest to live as a "one-man show" with his friends, his first wife and the titular shop and record label by his side, along with the bands who are lucky (or possibly unlucky?) enough to sign with him. Along the way, punk is transformed, lessons are learned, but some reap better rewards than others – there's a thin line between Teenage Kicks and not making the Big Time. Such is the way in Good Vibrations, where Hooley is admirable enough to resist conformism but unable to entirely combat it.

Yet he attains, and retains, punk immortality by remaining unique. It's a complicated, compelling characterisation that Aaron McCusker sells with passionate energy and a sly nonchalance. Revolving around him are a series of live musical performances guaranteed to get one bouncing in his or her seat, a uniformly strong group of multiple role-players featuring the excellent Sean Kearns and Christina Nelson, and Niamh Perry's truly heartfelt portrayal of the first Mrs Hooley, Ruth. She's as adorable as she is no-nonsense, a sweetheart and a pragmatist.

Good Vibrations is, at its core, about performance. It's about the importance and significance of the confident façade, appearing in control even though the outside world, with its troubles and rejections, has given one every reason not to believe. It's about how "being yourself" can be both good advice and a fantasy, with the contrast between musical idealism and monetary reality presented both grittily and winningly. The power and price of teenage dreams, superbly and enduringly illustrated in a work that's fun to bond over and rewarding to talk about. Like the film, the Good Vibrations play is more than "a way of life"... it's a friend for life. 

Simon Fallaha

Good Vibrations ran at Belfast's Lyric Theatre.

Recent Theatre Reviews