The Harder They Come was a remarkable movie. Produced in 1972, it was the first feature film to come out of Jamaica and it introduced the USA to reggae music, predating Bob Marley. Despite the title, it's not a porn movie but a low budget reggae musical and the soundtrack by Jimmy Cliff, who also played the lead, became an iconic album. Now, the film has been turned into a play which enjoyed success in the West End and is now touring the country.
The play follows Ivan, a poor Jamaican from the country who moves to Kingston to make a living as a reggae singer. His songs are popular but the record companies rip him off and keep all the money to themselves. Hungry and unable to find work, he gets involved in the drug trade. The police's efforts to catch him turn him into a hero and as his fame and notoriety grow, he becomes a symbol of rebellion against police brutality and corruption. Relishing this, a rôle which he relishes. In short, he becomes the Jamaican Robin Hood.
Although not your run-of-the-mill musical, this play still suffers from their common curses of over-sentimentality and a lack of time to develop the plot and characters. We don't really get a sense of the poverty and injustice that motivates Ivan to become a gangster. However, the second half has more pace and there are some great songs performed live including You Can Get It If You Really Want, Pressure Drop, Shanty Town (007) and the title track, The Harder They Come. The choreography was excellent and Matthew J Henry, as Ivan, was superb in his rôle. There was a great atmosphere and by the end, the whole audience were on their feet dancing.
The Harder They Come plays at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 22nd May 2010.