Skip to content

Get Up, Stand Up!

Lee Hall (writer), Clint Dyer (director) Arinzé Kene (playing Bob Marley)

Lyric Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue from 20 October, 2021

Review by Trish Cooke


A DJ addresses the audience in Jamaican patois, drawing us in with welcoming banter and fun, before the cast burst on to the stage, dancing to Bob Marley’s ‘Lively up Yourself’. That’s the opening of Get Up Stand Up at London’s Lyric Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue. On his first entrance, Bob Marley (played exquisitely by Arinzé Kene) greets the audience with a call of ‘Jah!’ – the audience respond with ‘Rastafari!’, the standard Rastafarian call and response – and the bond between audience and performers is formed.

Directed by Clint Dyer, this show tells the story of Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley’s life and musical career, and his quest to bring his message of resistance and one love to the world through his songs. Act One moves along very swiftly, beginning in St Ann’s, Jamaica where the young Robert Nesta Marley is being sent away by his mother Cedella (Julene Robinson) to stay with his white father in Kingston. We are then whisked along through key moments in Marley’s life, with fellow musicians Bunny Wailer (Jacade Simpson), Peter Tosh (Natey Jones) and record producer Chris Blackwell (Henry Faber). We take a peek into Bob’s relationships with Rita Marley (Gabrielle Brooks) and Cindy Breakspeare (Shanay Holmes). We touch on Bob’s entanglement in the political situation in Jamaica between Michael Manley and Edward Seaga’s armed supporters; Marley being shot; his time in England; and his reluctance to face up to the cancer in his toe. All this in 2 hours, 30 minutes! Despite such rapid glimpses of episodes in Bob’s life, the show remains extremely entertaining, dropping one Marley song after another, whilst cleverly linking key moments in the man’s life.

To aid our sense of the timeline, designer Chloe Lamford and video designer Tal Yarden  project images onto massive speaker boxes and onto screens in the auditorium, which punctuate the show with historical references and dates, without being invasive. Writer Lee Hall and director Clint Dyer’s decision to cover Marley’s whole life, instead of a slice of it, as seen in previous Marley shows, is a brave and bold move, but one that pays off, celebrating the source of the creativity of the lyrical genius that is Bob Marley.

Arinzé Kene commands the stage and embodies the signature Bob Marley jog-dance mannerisms throughout, magnificently. His singing is tremendous, as is that of the whole cast. Super talented Musical Director Sean Green and the musicians, often seen on stage, deliver too many musical highlights to mention but amongst my favourites was Kene singing ‘Talking Blues’ as Bob walks the cold English streets – joined by excellent backing vocal harmonies from Marcia Griffiths (Melissa Brown Taylor), Judy Mowatt (Sophia Mackay) and Rita Marley (Gabrielle Brooks).

I was a little sceptical at first when I learnt that the writer of Get Up Stand Up was to be the writer of Billy Elliot, Lee Hall, and I hoped that a white playwright would be able to capture the true essence of this great musician and tell his story effectively. Thankfully I need not have worried. Dyer’s soulful production, particularly the second half, is full of heart, with Bob’s relationship with Rita as the central focus. Gabrielle Brooks tenderly captures the resilience and strength of Rita Marley, culminating in a tear-jerking rendition of  ‘No Woman No Cry’ – a poignant reminder of how Bob and Rita met and how things had changed during their time together. This is a show I encourage everyone to go and see. Taking the words from Marley himself, it satisfied my soul.