I have to admit, I was skeptical of this new musical. Wondering whether it would just be another Jukebox musical, and although it is clear that the show is about Marley’s music, there is a strong storyline and this production is visually quite a spectacle. One Love creates a real atmosphere in The REP, mixing the vibrant reggae music of Bob Marley within the context of the conflict-centered life story that he wrote his songs in. Mitchell Brunings handles Marley's character with ease, allowing for a completely authentic performance, instead of a carbon copy. Complementing this is Kwame Kwei Armah’s writing and direction, which translates both the aggression and love of Marley's life.
Delroy Brown as Marley’s manager Don Taylor has a strong presence coupled with some stunning vocals, but it would have been wonderful to see and hear more from him. The same is felt for Alexia Khadime as Marley’s wife Rita, who becomes the antagonist to Marley in the latter of act two with a heart-wrenching duet mash-up of No Woman No Cry/Waiting In Vain. The strength of the ensemble is also present during musical numbers such as Burnin’ and Lootin’, Exodus, Concrete Jungle and War, as well as others featured across the musical.
Other standout performances came from Adrian Irvine as Micheal Manley and Simeon Truby as Edward Seaga. Leading the two opposing political parties, their strong presence on stage built up the tension, with edge-of-the-seat anticipation as the show reached its climax. The moment the two shake hands in front of the Jamaican people is the pinnacle of the conflict that drives the story in this musical. It is clear that writer Kwei Armah has centered this conflict within the writing and this is well executed by the large cast and is further strengthened by Coral Messam’s Movement Direction.
There is a real aggression and the sense of searing political anger is evoked well in the choreography, reflecting the unsettled movement of Jamaica. ULTZ’s design blends in with the performers, transporting you into Jamaica with ease from the start of the show. The steps leading down to the audience is a lovely touch, making the experience fully immersive and this is further heightened by the stunning performance from the band, led by Sean Green as musical director and orchestrated by Simon Hale. The set allowed for the band to be fully hidden or completely exposed, which was a great feature and the actor-musicianship from the performers brought Marley’s music to life in the theatre.
Tim Lutkin’s lighting design complements Duncan McLean’s projection seamlessly creating a textured setting to the Jamaican heritage. There are some striking moments which effectively contextualize the reality of the 1950s Jamaican conflict.
Running until 15 April at Birmingham Repertory Theatre you must not miss One Love. This new piece of musical theatre has such strength in story and you should experience it purely for the creative’s braveness in producing this work. Complete with a standing ovation sing-a-long at the end of the show, you will walk away feeling both reflective and inspired by Marley’s beats.
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