NSLint Dyer moves to the rehearsal complex café in south London. It’s as fresh – or as fresh as one can get in the sweltering weather of early September – from a Get Up, Stand Up! , a Bob Marley musical composed by Lee Hall, best known for the screenplay by Billy Elliot and the subsequent stage musical which he co-wrote with Elton John. I see the end of the rehearsal, the finale of the show, which goes from Marley receiving his final cancer diagnosis to a version of Three Little Birds tentatively starting, as if Marley can’t summon the emotions needed to deliver his carefree message, and then gradually gain momentum. It’s a really interesting repositioning of a song that’s lackluster because of the familiarity, and the strength of the performance is helped by the fact that, even in the practice studio, with the wig he’s wearing to emulate the obvious Marley dreadlocks, Arinzé Kene has the late singer’s movements on stage — akin to pointing and gesturing to the orator, which is The beating dance that regularly turns into a kind of jogging on the spot – down the bat.
It remains to be seen how Bob Marley’s musical performance will be in the West End. An earlier attempt to put Marley’s life story on stage interspersed with his songs, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s One Love, ran in Baltimore in 2015 and at the Birmingham Reap two years later, but Get Up, Stand Up! It is a very different proposition. Kwei-Armah’s play focused on Marley’s years in exile in England after surviving an assassination attempt in 1976, while “hopefully this is the full journey,” Dyer said. “I think that’s a lot more than getting into Bob’s heart and mind, so, of course, we’re holding on to what really happened. But as Bob says, the only truth is Jah, and I think we follow that kind of line, in that we’re trying to transcend his ideals and philosophies. We We are much more interested in getting to the core of Bob than in being a dramatic retelling of his life, or a stage in his life.”
Sure, it’s hard to see how the play could have ended with a more apt director than Dyer. Not only because of his impressive list of theatrical accomplishments – he was the first black British man to direct a West End musical (the acclaimed 2005, nominee Olivier The Big Life), he’s the only black British artist to have worked in the National Theater as an actor, writer and director, and was appointed Deputy Director The technician at the National in January — but because he’s clearly a total fan of Marley, interested in the differences between the Jamaican singer’s recordings and those he made with the Anglo-American market in mind, fascinated by the complex relationship between Marley and his wife, Rita.
Dyer told me he put his kids to sleep when they were babies by singing Marley songs to them, despite the fact that the lyrics were “inappropriate—but the melodies were beautiful—they wouldn’t know it, so that’s okay.” He says, “I feel like some people have learned nursery rhymes; I’ve taught Bob Marley songs. It’s just like my DNA… We’ve learned about ourselves through songs. I was going to school and the only date they wanted to tell me about the people that come from The countries I came from is that we were slaves – that was it! So when the Rastas suddenly came and went “Well, actually, I think you’ll find…”, it was “What?” Often times they did it with humor, they did It was with the utmost of style and conviction. It was a very tempting way to hear your truth.”
However, production was not without turmoil. There was Covid to deal with — “I caught a cold, got a false positive, and had to lower Zoom for three days while we were waiting for the PCR,” Dyer sighs, killing—and last year, Stand Up, Stand Up! It became part of the ongoing debate about race in British theater, when its original director, Dominic Cook, stepped aside saying the conversation had “changed… as it had changed in society.” He called Dyer directly to ask him To replace him: They worked together at the Royal Court when Cooke was artistic director, Dyer directed Rachel De-lahay’s popular play The Westbridge, and in Cooke’s 2016 revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National, in which Dyer played veteran tromboneer Cutler.
When I asked Dyer about the phone call, he paused for a long time before answering that I initially thought he was choosing his words carefully, but no. “So,” he eventually began, “he called me the night before I went to the hospital for cancer. It was one of the most bizarre things that ever happened to me. The second time I had cancer—a different cancer this time, and it was especially annoying.” I have high blood pressure, so I had to stay alone the night before and rest. So, Sunday evening, Dominic called. I only answered because there was still an element to being my boss in the royal court: Dominic! Hey! Hey! Yes, things are over Alright! Things weren’t quite right. He said he wanted to step aside and he wanted me to. I think he saw the death of England that year” – National Theater Show with Raf Spall as Angry Working Class Man Weeping for His Father and Nation, which Dyer co-wrote and take it out.
“I think he thought it was right to step down because of the political situation – you have to ask him,” Dyer continues. “Whether it will happen [stood aside] And he tasked everyone with introducing someone just because they were black, someone who didn’t think he could do that, I don’t know. But I don’t think he felt like he’d leave it in trouble if I did.” He laughs. “Being asked to direct a musical about a man who died of cancer — you didn’t lose sight of the sarcasm, believe me! Dear, my dear! “
After the announcement, Dyer was asked if progress had been made in diversity in the UK theater. He said he wasn’t optimistic: “Whether or not guilt turns out to be something recognizable to people who have suffered … some kind of compensation, that would be an interesting situation to put people in.”
Today, he adds, “I think what often happens is people go, ‘Okay, let’s get some young black people to practice,’ and then you have to wait for all those people to become experienced enough to be considered a good fit after that for a job, and then another generation of people is wasted.” There is more than a case to acknowledge the people who have already done so, under appalling circumstances, and to ensure that they, for example, preached the survival of such damned despotism, and secondly, given respect and work to justify an omission from the history of their talents. Clearly committed to this industry – they should be bloodthirsty because they’ve put up with all the bullshit for some damn years – why then pick a guy who just finds out whether he likes it or not? They shouldn’t have the pressure of the world and the company goes, “Look! We are trying to help diversity. You have to be brilliant! “They don’t have to be cool! They don’t have to save your company!”
Dyer got everything right after cancer treatment in the second week of rehearsals. No, he says, he never considered turning down the assignment, on understandable grounds that he had had enough already: “It actually made me think, ‘Well, I’ll do this for sure, then I can check out.'”
The challenge, he says, is to produce a play that presents very familiar music in a new light. “Everyone thinks they know his songs, so they really hear them. So our job is to really get people to listen to them—and so do I. You think you know the lyric and then you say, ‘Oh my God, he was really saying that.’” You think you understand the true potency of the song, And then understanding the history behind it means that it’s also a personal song, rather than just an empowering anthem. It actually comes from something that happened to Bob, or it’s a very personal expression of Bob. So what we hope to do is customize those songs, so we get to Bob’s head and heart” .