Review: The Harder They Come at Barbican, London

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By: Michelle Edwards

Verdict: Utterly enjoyable successful transition from the cinema

The Harder They Come - ticket.jpg

Questionably, one right-wing critic chose to refer to the stage version of Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come, as having 'rather too much of the Caribbean', in it. It's a somewhat hilarious assertion since the film and naturally the stage adaptation is set in Jamaica. To view Caribbean culture (or, for that matter, any prevailing culture), with such an explicit disregard as later determined by further remarks about the Jamaican dialects being 'so strong' and a reference to 'laid-back time-keeping' points to a broader tendency to strengthen lazy stereotypes.

Based on the true story of Ivanhoe 'Rhygin' Martin, a famed Jamaican outlaw who died of gunshot wounds sustained during a shootout with Police officers on September 9,1948 in Lime Cay, Jamaica, the 1972 film has enjoyed iconic status. The soundtrack to the film, performed largely by singer/musician Jimmy Cliff is also heavily referenced as being a breakthrough album for Reggae in the US. With the assistance of Perry Henzell, the production was initially ignited at the Theatre Royal, east London, in 2006 and surpassed all expectations concluding with two sell-out performances.

There was no truth whatsoever that the patois was intelligible enough to distract from the production and the slight delay in opening was hardly noticed by the patrons (the late entry by a vexed couple was quite another). Indeed excruciating efforts were made by actor Rolan Bell (who led as Ivanhoe) to duplicate the palatable performance of Jimmy Cliff, though not always successfully. Bell incorporated a realistic theatric performance leading the audience through the narrative and familiar numbers (Many Rivers To Cross, Johnny Too Bad, Sitting In Limbo) to the extended death scene. A stirring vocal performance by Joanna Francis as Ivanhoe's love interest Elsa, was comparable to that given by Jennifer Hudson in the otherwise weak American flick Dreamgirls. A credible selection of support actors drawn from the Black Theatre Co-operative such as Chris Tummings (Ray Pierre) and Victor Romero Evans (Pedro), who remain revered for their parts in the hit 80's TV sitcom 'No Problem' and singer Joy Mack (Miss Daisy) authenticated the musical.

In similar terms as the film, the audience left as overt sympathizers thus alluding to a tale that pushes a perfectly good citizen to a destructive end. The curtain call was delivered to a standing ovation.
* The Harder They Come runs until April 5th. Thereafter, they hit the Birmingham Hippodrome from April 11 to April 13.