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The Harder They Come review at Theatre Royal Stratford East

This terrific venue has been nominated by the Olivier panel this year both for its West End transfer of The Big Life and for its success in reaching new audiences. The Harder They Come feels like a celebration of these achievements and in this revival appears to be knocking hard on the door of Theatreland. While it is true it lacks the original stamp of The BIg Life, it boasts a classic song catalogue and a truly gifted cast that sings faultlessly and with fantastic energy.

Rolan Bell is particularly good reprising his lead role as Ivanhoe Martin, the country boy who fights corruption on all sides of Kingston for the freedom to realise his dream and in doing so becomes a people’s hero. While the themes of social injustice in Perry Henzell’s iconic 1972 film are present, his stage adaptation lacks the same stark realism and desperation. There is more humour here and a jaunty pace between the numbers, which include the title track as well as Many Rivers to Cross, You Can Get It if You Really Want and Jackie Wilson’s rousing gospel-soul hit Higher and Higher.

The deep stage, bare of backcloth, has a dancehall feel that suits the production and is filled with the entire cast most of the time, as well as the brilliant live band – top marks to all the musicians. Special mention also to cast members Marlon King, Susan Lawson-Reynolds, Nataylia Roni and Joanna Francis, who all sing superbly. Don’t wait for this to reach the West End, get down to Stratford.

Production Information

Theatre Royal, Stratford East, February 8-March 1

Perry Henzell, Trevor Rhone
Dawn Reid, Kerry Michael
Theatre Royal, UK Arts
Jackie Guy
Cast includes
Rolan Bell, Joanna Francis, Marlon King, Susan Lawson-Reynolds, Natalya Roni
Running time
2hrs 30mins

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