One Love is billed as ‘The Bob Marley Musical’, and that it certainly was. The musical followed the reggae stars rise from emerging artist to global icon amidst the tumultuous violence of Jamaican politics.
From the start of the show, Marley is the focal point. Politicians try to turn Marley into a figure for their party at the Smile Jamaica concert, which throws him directly into the firing line. Despite still playing the gig, he quickly flees to London. It is here that the strongest of his music emerges, before he returns to Jamaica at the request of former gang leaders to try and bring peace to Jamaica.
The first half of Kwei Armah’s musical gives us an initial highlight into the vast context which influenced the life of this musical icon. Combining with ULTZ’s imaginative and vast set design, we are simply and clearly taken to each of these locations. Within minutes we travel from the violence of Jamaica to Marley’s new suburban home in Chelsea.
It possessed a good pace, with most of the numbers originating from the bands performing in the musical. Mtichell Brunings and Alexia Khadime created a tender relationship for the Marley’s, which we bought into from the offset. Projections during some of the songs however seemed distracting, and inconsistent with the aesthetic throughout the piece thus far. Perhaps the end of the act would work better as Marley and the band are shot at for an increased sense of drama since we lose some of this currently.
Nevertheless, the second half is a step up in performance. Prior to seeing the show, there had been rumours of a West End transfer and if the calibre of the second half is anything to go by then it certainly deserves it. This is where the showstopper musical begins to work with the narrative to create something that works sustainably, beyond the die-hard Marley fans.
Mitchell Brunings is extraordinary as the titular character, somehow replicating that instantly recognisable voice and really owning his time as Marley the performer. His emotionally dynamic relationship with Alexia Khadime is lovely; yet brought back into the very human by his affair with Cat Simmons’ Cindy Breakspeare.
On occasion, concepts are introduced but not fully developed: we are given an insight into Breakspeare’s pregnancy but this vanishes from the plot as it motors towards its conclusion. This comes in the form of a three-song mini concert of sorts in which audience participation is strongly encouraged. The sheer level of fun and unity which resonated through the 800 seat Birmingham Rep was palpable as One Love brought the curtain down on a triumphant night for this new musical which, in reality, is about so much more than Bob Marley.