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Live / stage review

"Fails to come to fruition": A Joyous Jamaican Journey at the Lyceum

Despite terrific song choices, Rush Theatre's black history production fails to come together as intended, ultimately coming across as unenthusiastic and disjointed.

8 October 2022 at
A joyous jamaican journey lyceum

As Black History Month continues, it was fitting that Rush Theatre Company came to the Lyceum with A Joyous Jamaican Journey, a celebration of the music, culture and history of the Jamaican people.

Told through the songs of Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Millie Small and many others, the show explores the rich history of the island, the influence of the nation on the cultural landscape and the blending of cultures following the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush on the UK’s shores, interspersing the music with insights into the past through pictures, stories and film clips.

The choice of songs was terrific and there were so many classics jam packed into the show, played live by the Ja Reggae Band. The songs were the stars of the production, a mix of reggae, gospel, ska and dancehall demonstrating the cultural impact, significance and importance of Jamaican music. History is embedded in these songs.

But despite the intentions of the production, it failed to come together as the piece of theatre it could have been. Lead vocalists Daniel Bowen-Smith and Janice Wilson both had rich voices which were full of soul, but they also showed a real lack of stage presence and enthusiasm. The Ja Reggae Band were competent without ever dazzling, hindered by sound mixing which meant that instruments were competing with each other.

Hosting the evening was John Simmit, who rambled his way through the proceedings as though he was making up the show on the spot. Nearly every joke failed to hit the mark and he eventually resorted to ribbing the audience about their age.

The snippets of history he gave were fascinating but brief and superficial, glossed over in such an unstructured and incoherent manner that any opportunity to educate and inform was all but lost as he mumbled and fumbled over what he was going to say next, rolled out stock phrases and repeatedly tried to convince the audience that they really were having a nice time. The disconnection between the history that was being shared and the commencement of the songs was blatantly obvious and jarring. Unlike the songs themselves, there was no rhythm or flow to the performance.

What could have been a tremendous opportunity to be entertained and educated never came to fruition. An amateurish, uneven and disjointed presentation meant there was never any momentum built and important moments in black history were given little more than a cursory glance. Poor quality production values and an unenthusiastic cast just added to the frustration at what a missed opportunity this show was.

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