Director of Bob Marley musical sceptical about UK theatre's progress on diversity

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
·3-min read

British theatre is trying to get its house in order when it comes to diversity, but the director of a new West End musical about Bob Marley fears progress will not go far enough.

Clint Dyer, who replaced Dominic Cooke as the director of the delayed show, said ideas for the future of theatre were promising. “Theatre has definitely answered some of its biases,” Dyer said. “In an industry which is based on opinion, it is particularly hard to get people to accept their biases.

“I think that efforts are being made to change the future. Whether or not efforts are being made to recognise and compensate the past is a whole other conversation.”

The summer’s Black Lives Matter protests have jolted arts organisations into examining their efforts to improve the diversity of their workforces, programmes and audiences.

Dyer said he was hopeful rather than certain about the future. “I’m not confident at all … Look what has happened in the past. Look at my grey hair. Remember the 1980s, remember political correctness, the Comic Strip lot talking about changing the world, Free Nelson Mandela, end capitalism, blah blah blah. And then you remember the 90s when everyone said, ‘Oh yes, we’ve done that. There’s no racism any more. Racism has gone.’”

He recalled being invited to an industry event to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration. Dyer was the only black face, and was asked: “Why aren’t you celebrating?”

Dyer said there was a definite sense of guilt driving change this year. “Whether or not that guilt turns into something that is recognisable to the people who have suffered … some kind of reparation, that would be an interesting position to put people in.”

Tickets for Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical, written by Lee Hall and starring Arinzé Kene, go on sale on Tuesday with an opening night planned for 16 June.

Dyer recalled being contacted by Cooke, the former artistic director of the Royal Court, who had been involved in the show’s development. “He just laid the most beautiful golden egg at my door,” said Dyer. “As a black Brit of Jamaican heritage, there haven’t been enough pieces of work where I’ve been allowed to really use my skills set and my capability and my knowledge.

“It actually makes sense of everything I am. It is literally putting all the parts together.”

The musical will tell the story of Marley using his back catalogue of songs, including Exodus, No Woman No Cry and Waiting in Vain. It is a show that will have a deeper resonance after the events of 2020, said Dyer. “I find it hard to to say the perfect time, but it’s a time when things have collided … It is a time when I think people are actually listening.”

Kene has been soaking up all things Marley before rehearsals start next year. He said the three most important artists for him growing up were Fela Kuti, Stevie Wonder and Marley.

“In my personal history as a Nigerian, it is known that some of our songs from hundreds of years ago … [contained] survival information. There might be a song that tells you how to get to the water and avoid a dangerous area.

“I find that Marley does the same thing – there is survival information in his music. It is great to dance to, but it also teaches you something and you will remember it, no matter who you are.”