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Harder They Come to pull it off... but they do

PUBLISHED: 18:13 27 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:09 05 October 2010

HOW do you turn a film about broken dreams, poverty, police brutality and drug dealing into an upbeat musical that gets the audience dancing in the aisles? I have no idea how the producers of The Harder They Come pulled it off

By Eleanore Robinson

HOW do you turn a film about broken dreams, poverty, police brutality and drug dealing into an upbeat musical that gets the audience dancing in the aisles?

I have no idea how the producers of The Harder They Come pulled it off.

But they do.

The Theatre Royal Stratford production travelled to the Barbican in the City for its 'Film Jamaica' season celebrating the 25th anniversary of the seminal Jimmy Cliff film which introduced the world to Reggae.

And after two years touring, the show still packs the punch thanks to retaining much of its original cast.

Among them is Joanna Francis, who plays the sweet but naïve Elsa, singing Gospel tunes with a voice of liquid gold that is a joy to listen to.

She provides the love interest for Jimmy Cliff's original character Ivan Martin, played with boundless enthusiasm by Rolan Bell, another original player.

He holds the tale of the young singer who heads to the bright lights of Kingston with dreams of becoming a reggae star together brilliantly.

Bell swaggers through the story, superbly singing and dancing his way through Ivan's discovery of the harsh realities of the Jamaican music scene that drives him into a fast and furious life on the wrong side of the law.

And even when the story takes a darker turn towards the end, there is a fantastic comic performance by Chris Tummings as police chief Ray Pierre, who at one point threatened to "disappear" a member of the audience.

But the real star of the show was the music with the cast belting out Cliff songs You Can Get It If You Really Want It, Wonderful World, Beautiful People and, of course, The Harder They Come.

But it was the uplifting performance of (Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher that had the audience on its feet, drawing a perfect close to a thoroughly entertaining evening.

The Harder They Come is at the Barbican, Silk-Street (Tube: Barbican, from Whitechapel direct), until April 5. Performances 2.30pm and 7.45pm on selected dates. Tickets: £10-£30. Barbican box office: 020-7638 8891.

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