Music and Lyrics: Bob Marley
Book and Director: Kwame Kwei-Armah
Reviewer: James Garrington
There’s something hugely addictive about Bob Marley’s music, and there’s plenty of it to listen to at the REP with this show running. The title says it all – One Love: The Bob Marley Musical. This is the story of a part of the singer’s life, from his start in Jamaica as an unknown trying to get his break, through to the famous One Love Peace Concert in 1978.
These were unsettled times in Jamaica. Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga were engaged in a political tussle, and casting your ballot the wrong way could cost you your life, as rival gangs fought for their preferred candidate resulting in thousands of deaths. Marley finds himself drawn into the politics, despite regularly telling people he’s not interested, when some political manoeuvring by Manley leaves Marley apparently supporting the government with his Smile Jamaica concert, an event that results in Marley leaving Jamaica. This is followed, after a time, by his return in an attempt to reconcile the two sides with the peace concert.
This story may sound somewhat heavy, but it’s never allowed to dominate the music. In fact, although it is clearly based on a true story, it sometimes seems to serve – as is often the case – just as a vehicle to introduce the next song. There is violence, but it is portrayed with some restraint with video clips being used as much as live action. Indeed, the projection, designed by Duncan McLean, complements the action well and is an integral part of the overall design (ULTZ) which transforms the REP stage into a variety of locations using relatively few pieces of versatile scenery, all helping to keep the action moving.
Absolutely crucial is finding the right actor to play the role of Marley. This is his story, and he is seldom off stage for very long. Not only does he need to act the rôle, but also to sing it – all of the music is performed live by the cast – and this production has come up trumps with Mitchell Brunings, a man who it seems was born to play this rôle. It doesn’t place too many emotional demands on the actor, and Brunings gives a competent performance in that department – but it’s when he opens his mouth to sing that he really comes into his own. Brunings has a soulful voice with a strong resemblance to Bob Marley, and he delivers his numbers very well as one by one some thirty of Marley’s classic songs make their appearance.
Alongside Brunings there are also notable performances from two of the ladies in Marley’s life. Alexia Khadime acts and sings well as Rita Marley, the wife who Marley leaves in Jamaica when he heads to the UK to write and escape; and Cat Simmons gives a strong performance as a smokey-voiced Cindy Breakspeare, the Miss World who was one of many women with whom Marley had a relationship.
Several of the rôles involve strong Jamaican accents, which take a while to get used to and result in some of the dialogue being lost, particularly early on in the show when it is important to establish characters and relationships. By the end of the show, though, with the audience on its feet joining in with One Love, you could easily forget you were watching a musical and believe you were at a Bob Marley concert.
If you’re a fan of Marley’s music a good time is pretty much guaranteed.
Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Helen Maybanks