Clint Dyer walks into the cafe of a south London rehearsal complicated. He’s recent – or as recent as one might be given the sweltering early September climate – 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 following stage musical, which he co-wrote with Elton John. I see the top of the rehearsal, the present’s finale, which shifts from Marley receiving his terminal most cancers analysis to a model of Three Little Birds that begins tentatively, as if Marley can’t summon the required feelings to ship its carefree message, then steadily beneficial properties momentum. It’s a genuinely intriguing repositioning of a track dulled by familiarity, the power of the efficiency helped by the truth that, even in a rehearsal studio, with the wig he’s carrying to simulate Marley’s dreadlocks apparent, Arinzé Kene has the late singer’s onstage actions – the preacher-like pointing and gesticulating, the skanking dance that commonly became a form of jogging on the spot – down pat.
It stays to be seen how a Bob Marley jukebox will do within the West Finish. A earlier try to put Marley’s life story on stage punctuated by his songs, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s One Love, ran in Baltimore in 2015 and on the Birmingham Rep two years later, however Get Up, Stand Up! is a really totally different proposition. Kwei-Armah’s play targeting the years Marley spent in exile in England after surviving a 1976 assassination try, whereas “that is hopefully the complete journey,” as Dyer places it. “I believe that is rather more an impressionistic delve into the guts and thoughts of Bob, so, after all, we’re adhering to what really occurred. However as Bob would say, the one true truth is Jah, and I believe we’re following that form of line, in that we’re making an attempt to get throughout his beliefs and his philosophies. We’re rather more eager about getting the essence of Bob than being a dramatic retelling of his life, or a stage in his life.”
Definitely, it’s arduous to see how the play may have ended up with a extra appropriate director than Dyer. Not merely due to his stellar checklist of theatrical achievements – he was the primary Black British man to direct a West Finish musical (2005’s acclaimed, Olivier-nominated The Big Life), he’s the one Black British artist to have labored on the Nationwide Theatre as an actor, author and director, and was appointed the Nationwide’s deputy inventive director in January – however as a result of he’s self-evidently an entire Marley fanatic, obsessing concerning the variations between the singer’s Jamaican recordings and people he made with an Anglo-American market in thoughts, intrigued by the sophisticated relationship between Marley and his spouse, Rita.
Dyer tells me he bought his children to sleep once they have been infants by singing them Marley’s songs, even supposing the lyrics have been “inappropriate – however the melodies have been stunning – they wouldn’t know, in order that’s all proper”. He says: “I really feel like some folks have been taught nursery rhymes; I used to be taught Bob Marley songs. It feels prefer it’s fully and completely my DNA … We realized about ourselves by songs. I’d go to high school and the one historical past they wished to inform me about individuals who come from the nations I come from is that we have been slaves – that was it! So when Rastas abruptly got here round and went ‘properly, really, I believe you’ll discover …’, it was ‘What?’ Numerous the time they did it with humour, they did it with the utmost fashion and conviction. It was a really seductive approach of listening to your reality.”
Nonetheless, the manufacturing has not been with out its upheavals. There was Covid to deal with – “I had a chilly, I bought a false constructive and I needed to direct down Zoom for 3 days whereas we waited for a PCR,” sighs Dyer, “which was homicide” – and final yr, Get Up, Stand Up! turned a part of the continued dialog about race in British theatre, when its authentic director, Dominic Cooke, stepped aside saying that the dialog had “modified … because it has throughout society”. He rang Dyer direct to ask him to take his place: that they had labored collectively on the Royal Court docket when Cooke was inventive director and Dyer directed Rachel De-lahay’s acclaimed play The Westbridge, and on Cooke’s 2016 revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on the Nationwide, during which Dyer performed veteran trombonist Cutler.
After I ask Dyer concerning the phone name, he pauses for therefore lengthy earlier than answering that I initially suppose he’s selecting his phrases rigorously, however no. “So,” he ultimately begins, “he referred to as me the night time earlier than I used to be going into hospital for most cancers remedy. It was one of many bizarre-est, most head-spinning issues to have ever occurred to me. Second time I’ve had most cancers – a unique one this time, which was notably upsetting. I undergo from hypertension, so I needed to keep alone the night time earlier than and relaxation. So, Sunday night, Dominic’s referred to as. I solely answered it as a result of there’s nonetheless a component of him being my boss from the Royal Court docket: ‘Dominic! Hello! Hiya! Sure, issues are high-quality!’ Issues weren’t so high-quality. And he mentioned he needs to step down and he needs me to direct it. I believe he’d seen Death of England that yr” – the Nationwide Theatre present with Rafe Spall as an offended working-class male mourning his father and his nation, which Dyer co-wrote and directed.
“I suppose he did suppose it was proper to step down due to the political state of affairs – you would need to ask him,” Dyer continues. “Whether or not he would have [stood aside] and tasked everybody with getting any individual in simply because they have been Black, any individual he didn’t suppose may do it, I don’t know. However I don’t suppose he felt he was leaving it within the lurch if I did it.” He laughs. “To be requested to direct a musical a few man who died from most cancers – the irony was not misplaced on me, imagine me! Expensive, oh, pricey!”
Following the announcement, Dyer was requested if progress had been made on range within the UK theatre. He mentioned he wasn’t optimistic: “Whether or not or not that guilt turns into one thing that’s recognisable to the individuals who have suffered … some form of reparation, that will be an attention-grabbing place to place folks in.”
At this time he provides: “I believe what tends to occur is that individuals go: ‘OK, let’s get some younger Black folks into coaching,’ after which it’s a must to look ahead to all these folks to develop into skilled sufficient to then be thought-about proper for the job, after which one other era of individuals are misplaced. There may be extra of a case for recognising the folks which were really doing it, underneath horrible circumstances, and ensuring that they’re, for one, heralded for surviving such fucking tyranny, and two, given the respect and the work to justify the omission from historical past of their skills. There’s a great deal of people who find themselves clearly dedicated to this trade – they should be bloody dedicated as a result of they’ve put up with all of the bullshit for some many fucking years – why would you then selected a youngster who’s simply discovering out whether or not they prefer it or not? They shouldn’t have the strain of the world and the corporate going, ‘Look! We’re making an attempt to assist range; you’ve bought to be sensible!’ They don’t should be sensible! They don’t have to avoid wasting your organization!”
Dyer bought the all-clear after most cancers remedy within the second week of rehearsals. No, he says, he by no means considered turning the job down, on the comprehensible grounds that he already had sufficient on his plate: “It really made me suppose, ‘Proper, I’m undoubtedly going to do that, then I can try.’”
The problem, he says, is to provide a play that casts very acquainted music in a brand new gentle. “Everyone thinks they know his songs, till they actually hear them. So our job is to make folks actually hear them – me as properly. You suppose you understand a lyric and you then go: ‘Oh gosh, he was actually saying that.’ You suppose you perceive the actual efficiency of a track, and you then perceive the historical past behind it implies that it’s additionally a private track, versus simply an anthem of empowerment. It really comes out of one thing that occurred to Bob, or is an expression that may be very private to Bob. So what we’re hoping to do is personalise these songs, in order that we get into the top and coronary heart of Bob.”