This knock out performance by the all-Jamaican cast of The Harder They Come is one not to miss.
Director Dawn Reid opens the proceedings with the cast at a ‘Ni night’ ceremony for the late Ivan Martin, who becomes the protagonist of the night’s drama. The scenes then follow the highs and lows of Ivan’s life as he tries to forge a music career, and is eventually killed in a police shoot out after getting involved in the drug trade and petty crime.
As in the original film of 1972, Perry Henzell’s script exposes the social and political realities of Jamaica as an emerging country. The popularity of the film, said to be the first home-grown Jamaican production, will no doubt extend to this stunning show.
Familiar, captivating themes abound in The Harder They Come, like the problematic relationship between artists, producers and record companies that still prevails in the music industry today, which leads Ivan to set up his own label ‘Rhygin’.
However, it’s the soundtrack, featuring the ever popular ‘(Your love has lifted me) Higher and higher’, Desmond Dekker’s ‘Shanty town’ and Jimmy Cliff’s biggest hits, that give the performance its real swing factor.
The musicality of the performers is outstanding. The band is on stage for the duration of the show, which lends the performances a realness that only live music can. Band and soloists are tight throughout, though the levels sometimes make audibility of the vocals difficult.
Matthew J Henry as Ivan is the embodiment of Jimmy Cliff at his peak, singing his heart out, the complexities of Ivan’s character, against the backdrop of Jamaican history. His performance of Ivan’s philosophy and Jimmy Cliff’s hit ‘You can get it if you really want’ is stunning. Alongside him, Alanna Leslie delivers a beautiful entry piece as Ivan’s love interest Elsa.
The simple, clean staging and boldly coloured costumes, by Mark Simmonds and Amita Kilumanga are just right. A particularly clever touch is the change from a Jimmy Cliff portrait on the back wall to a spray of graffiti that declares ‘I was here’.
The audience are a real part of the performance, and the cast show great talent in interacting and reacting to the crowd. On the night in question, Craig Stein showed true professionalism as policeman Ray Pierre, adeptly handling audience heckles.
A heartfelt and well-deserved standing ovation led into the whole audience dancing to the final encore. The Harder They Come is not just for Jimmy Cliff fans or reggae lovers, it’ll get even the stiffest hips swaying.
- Virginia Newman