Based on the 1970s hit crime film responsible for launching Jimmy Cliff to fame, reggae musical The Harder They Come comes to the Playhouse. Opening on one of the hottest days of the year, it wasn’t hard for the audience to believe it was part of the colourful Jamaican community acted out before them. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience.
Starring Rolan Bell, the musical tells the story of Ivan, a country boy who comes to Kingston to make his fortune as a singer. Stumbling across a gospel choir, he falls for the sweet and modest Elsa (Joanna Francis). Brought up by the local preacher (Victor Romero Evans), she is devastated when he discovers their forbidden relationship and turns his back on both of them. Now homeless and forced to roam the city for work, Ivan’s dreams of becoming a star are dashed when he realises he will have to sign all rights away if he lets record company mogul Hilton (Marcus Powell) produce his song. Determined to make it on his own terms and offer a life to Elsa, he joins forces with the laid back, comedy-sized joint smoker Pedro and begins dealing marijuana.
Arriving in the city naïve and enthusiastic, Ivan is increasingly drawn into a life of crime and violence in a misguided attempt to fulfil his ambition. When he finally manages to produce the record he dreamed of, Ivan becomes an over night success, but finds himself on the run from the police. A symbol of protest for the people, his vision means he must pay the ultimate price for not turning his back on his dream.
During the show, interaction between the audience and the cast is actively encouraged. At points the house lights are brought up so the overzealous preacher can add us as members in his congregation, or so keeper of the peace Ray Pierre can threaten the audience when it will not help capture Ivan, creating a unique, intimate feel to the performance. This is further reiterated with the stage set up, as the drum kit, amps and microphones belonging to the house band become part of the scenery of the show in a move that means you could be forgiven for momentarily thinking you were at a concert rather than a musical.
This is a production where however energetic the dancing, however colourful the characters, the music utterly steals the show. Packed with familiar songs you won’t remember you know the words to, including Rivers Of Babylon, You Can Get It If You Really Want, Many Rivers To Cross and Higher And Higher, the cast perform with such soul and passion, when the show comes to a close even good old British reserve won’t stop you dancing from your seat.