dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Bob Marley musical reveals complex man behind the legend
With the recent plethora of musician-based musicals it was only a matter of time before the spotlight turned on reggae legend Bob Marley. And that time is now with this new musical One Love using his music to tell his story.
Produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where it has premiered, One Love focuses on just two years of Marley's life but in doing so it succeeds in opening the door on much more. Written and directed by Kwame Kwei Armah, the narrative covers 1976-8, a turbulent period in which Marley and his family were shot at, Marley hid out in England and then visited Ethiopia, he created his famous Exodus album and he fronted two concerts for peace in Jamaica.
But by harking back to Marley's childhood and introducing the spectre of his cancer, Kwei Armah succeeds in revealing much more of his life that these two years. While there is plenty of love for Marley in the show, One Love doesn't deify the musician and his faults and frailties are laid bare as we see him resorting to violence to further his early career and cheating on his wife while he is in England and his family are still back home in Jamaica.
Mitchell Brunings is impressive as Marley, capturing those complexities as his character struggles with his personal demons while also trying to find a way to be instrumental in peace in his homeland without being pulled into its politics. Brunings has clearly spent a good deal of time studying Marley as he not only has some of his mannerisms but also sounds incredibly like him.
Alexia Khadime is his long-suffering wife Rita, whose heart-felt pleas to her husband to return home to his children initially fall on deaf ears. A duet in which she sings Waiting in Vain while Marley counteracts with No Woman No Cry is a high point of the production.
There are lots of great caricatures from Delroy Brown as Marley's manager Don Taylor, Natey Jones as British reggae artist Trevor Waters and Alex Robertson as Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. The ensemble gives spirited performances with energetic singing and dancing and the live band is excellent. But the biggest frustration is that too much of the diction is impossible to follow. There were clearly microphone issues on press night but it's also that some of the diction is simply delivered too fast resulting in entire sentences of incoherence.
The production also sags a little in the second half while Marley is in London and Ethiopia finding himself. There's a good deal of time spent with Marley either sitting on his sofa or twiddling in the studio which slows the pace down.
Ultz's set ensures the action can remain centre stage even when there's full cast and band. He also makes good use of projection with images and worlds emphasising the action or the songs on stage.
Marley fans won't be disappointed at the number of his songs featured including I Shot the Sheriff, Redemption Song, Sun is Shining, Exodus, Jammin' and Is This Love? One Love had already proved to be popular before it opened with The Rep announcing an additional week of performances – now it's on stage it's likely to pull in the crowds.