One Love review at Birmingham Rep
 

 

Bob Marley

Mitchell Brunings as the late Bob Marley. Pictures:  Helen Maybank

One Love - The Bob Marley Musical

Birmingham Rep

*****

Once in a while a piece of theatre comes along that seems so obvious to produce you wonder why it’s never been done before.

That is definitely the case with One love which charters the meteoric musical career of Bob Marley, whose writing, it could be argued, brought reggae out of Jamaica and delivered it into the acceptance of an international audience. 

Just hearing the music played out live with such authenticity and joy is a reason to go and see this show. However writer and director Kwame Kwei Armah has the benefit of Mitchell Brunings in the lead role who physically looks like Marley and whose vocal delivery is almost identical .

His performance in the role and eventual command of the audience is nothing short of brilliant and with an excellent supporting cast this show is a clear success.  This is no cover act performance though; Armah has skilfully set the music against the political struggles and brutal violence of Jamaica and it positions Marley as a man who is torn between his simple need to make his music and his opposing moral dilemma of uniting his torn country.    

However balancing the politics with the music doesn’t always work as well as it should. There is little in the way of positioning the country’s struggles for the uninitiated, beginning instead with a concert set on Independence Day. 

Some of the passages discussing the politics between the prime minister of the time, Michael Manly, and leader of the opposition, Edward Seaga, although critical to the story, were overlong. The strong patois dialect might also be a challenge for some. Musically, however, it was not and in the first half the songs were mostly intact as band performance pieces.

Rita and Bob

Alexia Khadme as Rita Marley and Brunings as Marley

In the second act though, musical arranger Phil Bateman who trained at Birmingham University, was  far more adventurous in the development of the works and more in keeping with a musical theatre setting. A superb rework combining the songs No woman No cry and Waiting in Vain featuring Alexia Khadme as Rita Marley and Brunings, brought out more of the soul in Bob Marley’s work and signalled an emotional turning point in the production.

There were strong performances throughout the entire cast notably with local actor Delroy Brown as Don Taylor, Cat Simmons as Cindy Breakspear and the political heads of Manley and Seaga played by Adrian Irvine and Simeon Truby.

However the real star of the show is the music. Under the direction of another Birmingham trained performer, Sean Green, the band recreated the infectious sounds of reggae and with the outstanding vocals and accuracy of Brunings out front, it was equal to the real thing.

A creative piece of staging by Ultz had the entire band brought forward to create the famous One Love peace concert of 1978 where Marley brought about the joining of hands by the rival political parties. Ending with the songs Jamming and Three Little Birds the theatre broke out into a full-on party atmosphere and brought forth the overwhelming joyous spirt of Marley’s music.

Overall the musical balances some difficult social issues and drifts in momentum a couple of times but it is head and shoulders above many of the sound-alike tours that seem to do the rounds and this one has a positive and real message.

Director Kwame Kwei Armah and his cast clearly have a real affection and respect for Bob Marley and it shows. No one was sitting for the last ten minutes and with several audience members encouraged to join the cast on stage, there was a genuine unity in the room and everyone was up and feeling One Love. This is a real do not miss performance. To 15-04-17

Jeff Grant

15-03-17 

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