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Review: ‘One Love: The Bob Marley Musical’ at the Birmingham Rep
Becky Bryant reviews this refreshing and fascinating musical, which tells the story of the life, the loves, the struggles and the music of Bob Marley
‘One love, One heart, let’s get together and feel all right’
To anyone who has experienced the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers; whether you are a passionate fan, who like me after a long day will seek therapy through popping Exodus on the vinyl player and kicking back with a cup of tea, or whether you simply appreciate the impact of the man himself, who made a difference and thus became a global phenomenon, One Love: The Bob Marley Musical is worth a watch.
“a spiritual and political journey
One Love follows the journey of Bob Marley (Mitchell Brunings) as he develops from rising reggae star to international icon. It depicts his love, his struggles, and his desperation to unite his beloved homeland of Jamaica, whilst at the same time attempting to balance this with his music commitments in the UK. It is a spiritual and political journey that pinpoints the inspirational impact of music and the profound power of community.
The Musical opens in Trench Town, Kingston on Independence Day 1972 where Marley is playing with the original Wailers, Bunny Wailer ( Newtion Matthews) and Peter Tosh (Jacade Simpson). They are accompanied by a colourful ensemble who are dancing as they sing 'Simmer Down'. This is an excellent number to open the piece on, both demonstrating the unity of community, but also introduces one of the greatest elements of this production: the fantastic choreography of the ensemble numbers. They are slick and full of rhythm, and fill the stage with soul and feeling.
“Mitchell Brunings plays Marley with subtlety and a compelling believability
Mitchell Brunings plays Marley with subtlety and a compelling believability, which is further strengthened by his chemistry with Alexia Khadime, who plays Rita Marley, his wife. They both play a crucial part in setting up the learning curve for both Marley and the audience, which leads the narrative. Marley initially proclaims ‘I’m not a Rastafari yet, I’m a Rude Boy’, as he struggles to accept his potential, and spiritual duty to unite the masses and prevent civil war in Jamaica. The narrative then follows Marley’s journey and puts a new spin on the song Redemption, which echoes significantly for both character and the watching audience.
“the show does not shy away from presenting Marley’s flaws and struggles to conform to everyone’s expectations
What is most refreshing about this musical however, is the fact that it does not shy away from presenting Marley’s flaws and struggles to conform to everyone’s expectations. In fact, it deliberately uses this to demonstrate his humanity and instantly makes him more relatable to the audience. In an emotional scene between Marley and Rita, who has left Jamaica to come to England after discovering that Marley’s mistress Cindy Breakspeare (Cat Simmons) is pregnant with his child. What follows is a heart-breaking medley of 'Waiting in Vain' and 'No Woman No Cry', which Brunings and Khadime, both vocally and emotionally deliver with heart-breaking integrity. Simmons too creates beautiful characterisation as his mistress, and her voice takes 'Is this Love?' to a deeper level.
“the musical isn’t just a gig of Marley’s music but emphasising that his journey was a ground-breaking moment in history
Writer and Director Kwarme Kwei Armah stated that his intention was ‘I have to look after the integrity of this man, I have to look after the integrity of not just his reputation but his spirit.’ He does this through ensuring the musical isn’t just a gig of Marley’s music but emphasising that his journey was a ground-breaking moment in history, which still has powerful connotations for today. The set itself is simple, but exquisite and Armah has included use of news footage presenting the true events detailed in the narrative, instantly making the musical authentic.
“uniting Jamaica in music gives the musical a euphoric finish
The final scene where Marley reunites the two warring opponents: Prime Minister Michael Manley (Adrian Irvine) and his opponent Edward Seaga (Simeon Truby) at the One Love peace concert in Kingston 1978, thus uniting Jamaica in music gives the musical a euphoric finish, but what follows is the most memorable part of all.
The audience stood up for a standing ovation, and were then invited to sing along and dance on stage with the actors as united we sing a medley of 'Three Little Birds/ Get Up Stand Up/ One Love'. A medley that strikes a poignant cord for today’s society.
As Peter Gabriel put it, ‘music can create awareness’, and this is what Armah has created through this musical, demonstrating the profound impact of Marley and his music in its unwavering ability to bring people together.
The musical is running at the Birmingham Rep from the 10th March to the 15th April:
Article by Becky Bryant