Birmingham Rep, Birmingham – until 15 April 2017
“Let’s get together and feel all right.”
There’s much to enjoy in One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, not least the joyous celebration of some of the most enduringly famous music in the world. And writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah does a decent job at balancing the populist demands of a jukebox musical with something more dramatically satisfying. The result has been a sell-out success for the Birmingham Rep and I only just managed to squeak this into the schedule before it closes at the weekend.
Using 20 or so of Marley’s songs, Kwei-Armah takes us through an eventful few years in the singer’s life as the success of his artistry launches him from an accomplished reggae musician to international icon, pushing his concerns from simply getting records out to matters of national diplomacy as he finds himself intertwined in Jamaican politics. He also has internal conflicts with his band and a turbulent personal life to deal with, as well as converting to Rastafarianism.
There’s much to get through and it is powerfully done in ULTZ’s brightly evocative design taking us from the Caribbean to a punkish take on London. The lead role is performed vividly by Mitchell Brunings, giving us as much as he can about a figure who ultimately remains tantalisingly inscrutable. We see Marley ‘do’ a lot but aren’t necessarily given to understand the why which mutes a little of the emotional impact, which when we do get it, is devastatingly done.
Brunings’ duet with the ever-excellent Alexia Khadime as his wife Rita on a medley of ‘No Woman No Cry’ and ‘Waiting in Vain’ is scorchingly good, as she struggles to deal with the news that his mistress is pregnant (another strong performance from Cat Simmons, whose ‘Is This Love?’ is achingly sung). More moments as affecting as this would have satisfied me more but by the end, when a concert format is adopted for the closer of ‘Three Little Birds’, ‘Get Up Stand Up’ and ‘One Love’ and the audience is invited up to sing and dance, it is hard to resist the exuberance that this music engenders and that this musical distills into the theatre.