Clint Dyer was asked to direct the eagerly awaited reggae rollercoaster the night before he started cancer treatment. He explains why he couldn’t say no
Clint Dyer walks into the cafe of a south London rehearsal complex. He is fresh – or as fresh as one can be given the sweltering early September weather – from a run-through of Get Up, Stand Up!, a Bob Marley jukebox musical written by Lee Hall, best-known for the screenplay of Billy Elliot and the subsequent stage musical, which he co-wrote with Elton John. I see the end of the rehearsal, the show’s finale, which shifts from Marley receiving his terminal cancer diagnosis to a version of Three Little Birds that begins tentatively, as if Marley can’t summon the necessary emotions to deliver its carefree message, then gradually gains momentum. It’s a genuinely intriguing repositioning of a song dulled by familiarity, the strength of the performance helped by the fact that, even in a rehearsal studio, with the wig he’s wearing to simulate Marley’s dreadlocks obvious, Arinzé Kene has the late singer’s onstage movements – the preacher-like pointing and gesticulating, the skanking dance that regularly turned into a kind of jogging on the spot – down pat.
It remains to be seen how a Bob Marley jukebox will do in the West End. A previous attempt to put Marley’s life story on stage punctuated by his songs, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s One Love, ran in Baltimore in 2015 and at the Birmingham Rep two years later, but Get Up, Stand Up! is a very different proposition. Kwei-Armah’s play concentrated on the years Marley spent in exile in England after surviving a 1976 assassination attempt, while “this is hopefully the full journey,” as Dyer puts it. “I think this is much more an impressionistic delve into the heart and mind of Bob, so, of course, we’re adhering to what actually happened. But as Bob would say, the only true fact is Jah, and I think we’re following that sort of line, in that we’re trying to get across his ideals and his philosophies. We’re much more interested in getting the essence of Bob than being a dramatic retelling of his life, or a stage in his life.”