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Review: 'One Love' is "So much more than a sing-a-long"

HOMAGE: Mitchell Brunings as Bob Marley (photo credit: Helen Maybank)

THE WORD ‘musical’ in the title of 'One Love: the Bob Marley Musical' fails to do justice to this brilliant UK premiere at Birmingham Rep on the life of one of the world’s greatest musical icons.

Of course there has to be music if it’s a story about Marley, but director Kwame Kwei-Armah has pulled it off with just the right balance. He was so right when he said “this is no sing-a-along-a-Bob.”

Kwei-Armah, who first staged this production in Baltimore in 2015, had admitted he’d ‘felt fear’ about telling the life of the reggae legend – he needn’t have worried.

Ironically, the finale is indeed a sing-along for the entire audience – some dancing on the stage – singing Three Little Birds, Get Up Stand Up and One Love with the excellent Mitchell Brunings, who plays Marley. Shut your eyes and you hear Bob.

But - that’s not before we’ve shared Marley’s journey as he struggles with who he is in a violent Jamaica torn apart by politics and his self-imposed exile to London after he was shot. As he says poignantly: “My life is for the people.”

The play deepens – Marley and his wife Rita, played by Alexia Khadime are powerful as they intertwine No Woman No Cry and I Don’t Want to Wait in Vain. The emotion is palpable.

So too is the Biblical scene of Marley’s journey to Ethiopia as he embraces Rastafarianism. He says:

“I came here to get strength from these hills,” before singing Redemption Song.


FEELING ALRIGHT: The cast of 'One Love' (photo credit: Helen Maybank)

Kwei-Armah has achieved the impossible by making the cast’s Jamaican patois understandable to those unfamiliar with the accent, which makes the play more authentic.

However some people felt that the two female leads – Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths, one of his backing singers, played by Shyko Amos, would have been better in each other’s roles.

As the audience left the theatre, the pride in their smiles said it all. Montego Bay-born soul singer Ruby Turner, who grew up in Birmingham, was visibly moved by the performance.

She told The Voice afterwards:

“It’s incredible, but it’s also heavy because I feel Kwame has told the story of my homeland. He has brought to the stage a piece of our history. It’s made me feel very emotional. He’s a genius and I salute him. Kwame – I’m so glad you’re back from Baltimore.”

While Nathan Dennis, who runs the community engagement company First Class Legacy, said:

“This is the best thing to come out of Birmingham – ever!”

Birmingham-born actor Lorna Laidlaw, who stars in the BBC soap Doctors, said:

“Kwame has got this production spot-on and the cast are incredible – there isn’t a weak link. Mitchell Brunings, who plays Bob Marley, has melted my heart.”

Sing along, but be educated too. So much more than simply a musical – go and see for yourself at the Birmingham Rep until 15 April.

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