We walked past the Lyric Theatre on the evening of Wednesday 28th December to see the “House Full” sign up, which I thought was a good sign (in more than one way) that there was still interest in this show; and indeed, when we turned up for the matinee on Thursday 29th December there was barely a seat available; which made me ask myself why the heck are they closing this show whilst it’s still doing such great business? I guess that’s a question for Mr. Producer; don’t ask me.
Audiences have been Getting Up and Standing Up (although only when told to!) since October 2021 and I’m really glad to have had the chance to see this show before it closes on Saturday 8th January. According to the Nimax Theatre website, there are just two (yes, that’s 2) seats left unsold between now and the end of the run. So they’re obviously doing something right.
In fact, they’re doing almost everything right. This is a gloriously entertaining show and performed with tremendous style and warmth. Staged with intimacy, the show instantly strikes a terrific connection between the performers and the audience, with David Albury as Bob Marley introducing us all to the entire cast with whom we will spend the next two and a half hours. We watch the rise (talent) and fall (ill health) of Bob Marley, his life and loves (11 children apparently, from many mothers, so Jah certainly provided), his influence on both the music and political scenes; and a reacquaintance (if like me, it’s been quite a while since Marley has been on your turntable) with his amazing music. It’s been a full five days since we saw the show, and his tunes haven’t stopped going through our heads ever since. In fact, almost the first thing we did when we came home was to find our old copy of his Greatest Hits album Legend and listen to the whole thing without stopping.
I say they’re doing almost everything right. That’s because Lee Hall’s book misses nearly every opportunity to draw the meaning out of Marley’s insightful lyrics and relate them to his life. Significant events like uniting political leaders Seaga and Manley on stage with him are quickly dipped into and then left behind. I wanted to come away from the show feeling that I knew much more about Marley the man – but I don’t believe I did. We also had another issue with the show – which was our difficulty in tuning into the Jamaican accents. Concentrate hard as we did, we still missed out on a lot of the conversations.
But this matters so little when you get swept up with the warmth and musicality of the show. David Albury, who has been the lead Marley performer since October, is absolutely superb as the main man. His physicality of performance, the timbre of his voice, his expression, and his sheer love of what he’s doing, overwhelm you and you’re completely transfixed by him. He’s just magnificent; and the unalloyed joy of his performance of Jamming (supported by the whole cast) that closes the first half is something that will stay with me for a very long time.
However, it’s Cleopatra Rey, as Rita, who totally takes your breath away with her extraordinary vocal range and feel for the music. Her solo rendition of No Woman No Cry is one of the best individual performances of a song I have ever heard in a theatre. And her vocals on One Love are to die for. The other memorably spine-tingling moment comes from Shanay Holmes, when, as Cindy Breakspeare, she sings Waiting in Vain to Marley as he refuses to leave Rita for her. In our performance, it was young Kristiano Ricardo who took the role of Little Bob, and I loved his singing and commitment to the role – a star of the future, no doubt. But the whole ensemble are tremendous and hugely likeable; they ensure that we have a great time, and we left the theatre basking in the warm glow of pure success. I would happily see it again. They’re talking about a UK tour later this year – I’d definitely recommend it.
Production photos by Craig Sugden