Review of Now Is Good – joyful musical celebration of community life | Theater

Jhe pivotal moment in Tim Firth’s nourishing new musical would be easy to miss. It comes after a very funny Michele Dotrice went on a rant about playground games. As Ivy, a relentlessly raging former union representative, she considers enjoyment politically suspect. “Nothing pisses me off more than people who try to make me happy,” she fumes.

But no sooner has she let off steam than a hand reaches out to her. It belongs to one of the elementary school kids who is never far behind in Joyce Branagh’s production. It’s the smallest of gestures, as simple as it is innocent, but which crosses generations. Momentarily silencing Ivy, the clasp connects the playfulness of youth with the glorious eccentricity of old age.

Now Is Good is made up of two things. First, it is a do-it-yourself monument to Firth’s late father, Gordon, who, according to the playwright’s account, was a compulsive collector and recycler of rubbish. Fictionalized as Ray and successfully portrayed by Jeff Rawle, he becomes a retired builder supposed to renovate an old bank, performed on a deep, dusty set by designer Sara Perks.

He is, however, easily distracted. Befriending passers-by, he transforms a construction site into a place of songs, dress-up games and medieval jousts. The atmosphere is whimsical and cheerfully anarchic.

From this affectionate portrait emerges the second element of the show. It’s unusual both in its cast of older actors — Elizabeth Counsell riding around in a mobility scooter, Maxwell Hutcheon staring stiffly — but also in its inclusion of children. Beyond spooky Internet jokes, Firth offers a vision of a balanced and inclusive society. Only by embracing our community, it seems to say, can we deal with change and loss.

Chris Hannon as Ray Neil’s son is a health and safety officer who needs a physical and emotional safety net. Amid the turmoil, he looks to his community for solace. “Now it’s good,” he decides.

From a blustery start, it transitions into a hugely moving second half, not least because of Firth’s songs that emerge conversationally before heading into avenues of blended jazz and clever melodic loops. They are arranged with color and invention by musical director George Francis and sung with relish by an excellent cast.