“For real, this is going to sound cheesy, but listen, Get Up, Stand Up! Stand up for your rights! Don’t give up the fight! Listen, this is what we need right now. We’re just coming from a mad time, you know. There’s so much that has been happening in the shadows that is now being brought to light because of our camera phones”. Arinzé Kene
“The power of drama of performance” was the answer I got from Arinzé when I asked why he became an actor. The power that he talks about can be seen and felt in his performance in Clint Dyers’ Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical. In the title role as Bob Marley, Kene stars as the iconic reggae legend who was born in Jamaica to a white father and black mother, at a very young age he was parted from his mother and the story begins.
Armed with his overwhelming talent and soon inducted into the righteousness of Rastafari beliefs it is not long before Marley fast became a notable performer and talent. Kene’s Bob Marley is more sturdy in frame but his talent shines through to draw us into the music and the man, the legend. Marley’s platinum selling catalogue is performed religiously by an impressive cast…Dyer’s direction has managed to skilfully get A-rate performances, from Gabrielle Brook’s Rita Marley and member of female backing group the I-Three, to Daniel Bailey’s Lee “Scratch” Perry. Brook’s pulls a punch with her show stealing vocals deserving of an encore every time.
Chloe Lamford’s sound system infused set is complimented by Charles Balfour’s concert style lighting, along with masterful choreography by Shelley Maxwell. The show has many highlights hence the continuous applause from the audience on Press Night. Guests on the night included Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell, Saskia Reeves, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Clarke Peters to name a few, accompanied by a full red-carpet.
The award-winning team behind the musical which sees Lee Hall as writer and Dyer as director, actress Martina Laird as Assistant Director drive a story of protest, passion and politics, taking us from Trenchtown, to the streets of England, to Marley’s demise in 1981. Over two hours goes in now time as we are spoilt with songs like ‘Waiting in Vain’, ‘Redemption Song’ ‘Exodus’, ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘Three Little Birds’, ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, ‘Could You Be Loved’, and more. There is more than a little magic on stage in this musical that is was given the support of the Marley family. Dyer describes it as a “celebration” of Marley’s life and you can see why.
ALT A caught up with this very underrated talent Arinzé Kene, The actor and creator/writer to talks lead role in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Story at the Lyric Theatre which now has an extended run. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria and has had major roles in stage productions such as The Lion
King and Daddy Cool, with his own plays showing at major theatres across London, as we have just seen his stage presence is unmatched. His TV includes appearing in soaps EastEnders and Hollyoaks.
Kene was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to drama and screenwriting.
What motivated you to become an actor and what do you like most about this job?
What do I like most about it? Let me answer that one first. The power, the power of drama, of performance, you can relieve people’s tension. It can be therapeutic for people to see. I have personal stories of what acting, and drama has done for me. The first is what Spike Lee movies did for me when I was a kid. I just really needed to see depictions of myself, on screen, and I remember the first time I saw Crooklyn…I have four other siblings, life was a bit hard man, you know, growing up in east London in a poor family, we had our challenges. But then when I saw this film, where there was this black love, and they had their challenges too…I was just like, oh my God, I feel seen. I remember being a kid and just feeling really seen and then watching that film over and over and over and over again. I was like, oh God, we exist, we’re here. I wanna do that for people, you know, and I feel like with storytelling, you can really make people feel seen, feel loved and feel that they matter, you know, that’s what I strive to do. In addition to that, I also just really want to entertain because we need it, it’s a stressful life, we go through all kinds of ups and downs, in this year, last year, we’ve had the pandemic, people are rushing back to the theatre and to live performances because they need to just chill, and we can do that…No drugs necessary.
Coming back to the theatre, what does it feel like to be back?
It feels incredible. There is nothing like it. First of all, I forgot about the mental stamina needed to be in rehearsals every single day from ten till six, having to really kind of focus in. That muscle goes when you don’t use it. But very quickly we all just kind of came back up to speed. To be in a room with people who love doing what we do, who are not here for the money, but they’re here because of the work, is amazing. It’s amazing. I absolutely love being here. Honestly, if it were about [money], we could all be doing other work, but it’s because we love what we do. You’re in a room and everyone loves what they do, and they love to be there. So yeah, it’s just magical. We’re about to put on this show, we’re about to show people who’ve gone through it, they’ve lost loved ones in the last year and a half, people have died because of this virus, people have really suffered and been in quite depressing situations because of being alone and locked down. I didn’t attend my brother’s wedding because of this. I missed the first couple of months of my new niece’s life. All of these things build up and cause tension, and sometimes we need to relieve that in other ways. So, I feel like in the room, we’re very aware that we are serving a real, genuine purpose, you know, as performers, to heal people.
So, talking about performance and healing people, you’re playing Bob Marley. What does that feel like to play such a legend and how are you approaching this character, are there any challenges throughout the role?
It’s major, he’s one of my heroes, he’s one of my favorite people in the world who has ever lived. He’s also a mentor, posthumously, yeah, he’s always been one of my heroes. So, getting to play one of my heroes initially was quite challenging to get my head around. But then I step in and go yeah, I love this. I love love love it. As a creative myself, I find that so much of his story resonates with me. His beliefs, his core beliefs and values also resonate with me because I’m One Love. I’m about equality and spreading love, and that is literally all Bob Marley was about. He was like, I think we can all love each other, be equal, value each other, and also live our lives to the fullest while we are here on this planet. Honestly, and I know this is flung around when people go, it’s a dream job, dah, dah, dah, but this is actually a dream job for me. And this is the first one ever. This is the first dream job I’ve ever had. I’ve never said that before! I’ve never said, oh, this is a dream job. This is it. I don’t know if there will ever be another one, but this is definitely a dream job. It’s insane that I was born at the right time to be here right now, so I can get to play Bob, f****** hell, fantastic. Thank you to all of our Gods and ancestors who’ve made this possible.
Is there a Bob Marley song that speaks more loudly to you, or to this moment…?
For real, this is going to sound cheesy, but listen, Get Up, Stand Up! Stand up for your rights! Don’t give up the fight! Listen, this is what we need right now. We’re just coming from a mad time, you know. There’s so much that has been happening in the shadows that is now being brought to light because of our camera phones. We’ve known that our black people have been suffering at the hands of racism for a very long time. And people have tried to say racism does not exist. It’s only because of these phones right now that we have this evidence that you cannot deny, and yet people are still denying this. Right. Last year, you know, seeing the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the murder of George Floyd, the murder of various Black people, whether it’s by police or by other people… Discrimination as a whole, because of the colour of our skin, right? Listen, this is why we now need these songs of freedom. You know, Redemption Song is a song of freedom. We need these songs; we need this message to be amplified through the world. When we sing Get Up, Stand Up! in the show, it means something else right now, today, because it is resonating with every single cost member, today. We don’t have to think about when the song was written. We don’t have to do all of that because that song is still applicable today. Every single line. Don’t let them fool you! Because, for those reasons, it’s very, very, very current.
So, you’re also a writer, what inspires you as a writer or a creator, actor, where do you draw inspiration?
I draw inspiration from life, from real life, I try to live to the fullest, to embrace the good and the bad with equanimity. So, I try to let that speak into my work. I tend to write things that feel quite surreal, but right at the base of it they are quite grounded. I tend to really want to tell stories about people or for people who seem to be underrepresented or misrepresented. That is a theme in my work. That is what I want to do. I want people to be seen and heard, and very often the characters who I’m writing for are people who might fall through the cracks and who are often not seen or heard in our actual lives.
Without giving too much away, can you give us some context of what we can expect from this production, and where does the story start and end?
What to expect with this production? It’s amazing. This is actually amazing, we, as a collective, Clint Dyer, our incredible director, Lee Hall, who wrote a brilliant script, Bob Marley, one of the most incredible songwriters in the world, altogether, as an audience member, you are getting one hell of a show, the music alone is f****** fire right. But also, Bob’s story, it’s an incredible story. What he lived in his 36 years; you get a ton of lifetimes. You’re getting a full story as well as some incredible music to go with it, and obviously our performers as well are just absolutely amazing. I can actually tell you, the loves of his life, Rita, and Cindy, they play incredible roles and we’re using the music to help us tell those stories, it is quite unique. Shelley Maxwell, who is our choreography movement director, has us doing some incredible work. I don’t think any of us have moved in this way before…so yeah, the show is fantastic. There has never been anything like this on the West End before. My hope is that this show will change the West End, forever, because we need our work to be out here, and this show is undeniable, it’s f****** brilliant! My hope is that West End people will see this and go, we need more stories from all different backgrounds and cultures… Open your f****** stage we out here!
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a whole bunch of things. I can’t really tell you about them because they’re not green-lit. I’m a writer as you know, I’m busy cooking up all kinds of sh** in the lab, they’re fun. I can’t wait to share them with the world. That’s all kind of future stuff, but yeah, I’ve gone back to writing for screen. So, I have a bunch of exciting projects for the screen, and I’m still writing for theatre as well. I’m happy about that too. In lockdown, Debbie Tucker-Green made a film which is an adaptation of a play that was on at the Royal Court, it’s called ear for eye and has just been released. I’m really excited about that because it’s brilliant. I just shot this A24 movie called Tuesday, which comes out next year at some point. Those are my acting ones, but as far as writing goes, yeah, it’s looking saucy.
A truly inspiring and brilliant musical which will have you “jamming” and humming Bob Marley’s greatest hits long after seeing the show. This is the really really feel good musical of the season which is no surprise it already has an extended run. Cast includes:
Arinze Kene-Bob Marley.
Gabrielle Brooks-Rita Marley.
Shanay Holmes- Cindy Breakspeare.
Sophia Mackay-Judy Mowatt.
Melissa Brown-Taylor-Marcia Griffiths.
Jacade Simpson-Bunny Wailer.
Natey Jones-Peter Tosh.
Daniel Bailey- Lee Scratch Perry
Run time 2hr 30mins with interval. Book tickets here Runs until February 2022.