The winner of the evening at Get Up Stand Up – The Bob Marley Musical is its palettes of red-yellow-green, of green-yellow-blacks, of double denim, of the mottled wooden coating of 1970s speakers and LP listening booths – if the crackling of a record player’s needle starting the iconic album Uprising has a theme, these are its colours: The lighting of Super8 cameras taking pictures of flares and palm trees is brought on stage in a way no Insta filter can ever replicate. This is a rare, much refreshing visual break from the often very candy-coloured West End glamour surrounding the Lyric Theatre of London’s Theatreland. The unpretentious choice of costumes goes hand in hand with this, topped only by outsized speakers who literally and physically are the fundament of all stage levels in almost all scenes. It’s a bow to a time and place where sound systems were not easily available (let alone affordable) and one would have to combine optimistically all within reach to enable live performances – and hope for the best.
The strongest sound is created when three background singers carry the sound, accompanied by trombone and Hammond organ but all solo artists perform exceptionally without doubt. Biographically on the other hand, it is a maybe too brief run through Bob Marley’s life which gives more teasers than explanations: We learn little about Jamaica’s history, names of Black Panther members are dropped but their context no further introduced, the FBI hunt and even Marley being shot on stage gets only a few more moments before he and his Wailers bandmates move to the UK by the time Trojan Records have already metamorphosed to Island Records – a nod to Londoners present, but again not much more. Historic video footage grants snippets of riots during these years (and later of Windrush and Grenfell activists) but Get Up Stand Up provides vague leads for us to follow up on, not much more. Clearly the musical does not tell the story of Bob Marley fathering eleven children, nor does it give many insights into Rastafarian culture: You gain no more insight than browsing through dedicated stalls in Notting Hill or Christiania. Given the strength of tonight’s talented cast, they deserve more depth into the extraordinary lives during a wild era of peace and love, contradictions and confrontations.
During the interval I want to buy a program, but the queue is too long by the time I come back from one of only two toilets for the whole balcony, and so no Mi Fight Wid Music hoodie for me either. Thankfully drinking water is provided for free to all visitors without queuing. It would have been assuring nevertheless to find out if the program offers insight about possible-to-likely side effects of yet to be legalised marijuana consumption, of where to turn to when you are a victim of domestic abuse or being cheated out of royalties.
Also, I wish that I’d been able to book better seats as I am seeing the left third of the stage in the first half only through the white wine glass of the Lauryn Hill lookalike in front of me (seats I wanted to buy but the system did not allow for two as it would have meant leaving one seat spare – by now, they are indeed taken by two and a single visitor). We also miss out on the probably very glamorous foyer of the historic Lyric Theatre at Shaftesbury Avenue, built in 1888, when routed in and later out again through a well-organised side entrance to our balcony seats.
One advantage during the evening is less audience singing than in other shows following the lives of famous musicians. That is, until the finale when absolutely everyone gets up, stands up and dances. Almost sure that the French, Dutch and Germans around us struggle indeed with the Jamaican accents on stage, they do not seem to mind – we are in the West End on a sold-out Friday night during peak tourist season, and people on a holiday love a jukebox musical anywhere.
**** out of 5 stars
Music by Bob Marley, story adapted by Lee Hall, directed by Clint Dyer. Lighting Design by Charles Balfour, Costume Design by Lisa Duncan, Set Design by Chloe Lamford.
We paid £37 per ticket (plus a £3 booking fee per ticket) three and half weeks in advance during a TodayTix promotion. Balcony seats 22 and 23 in row B.