Get Up, Stand Up!: Michael Duke talks through playing the role of Bob Marley at the Lyric Shaftesbury Avenue
Following the life and career of late Jamaican artist Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up! is currently live at the Lyric Theatre until January 2023. Exploring everything Marley stood for – love, peace and unity – the musical showcases some of his most iconic songs, from Exodus to Waiting in Vain, Three Little Birds and One Love. The production also boasts a multi-award-winning team in writer Lee Hall and director Clint Dyer. Get Up, Stand Up! doesn’t just touch on the legend that is Marley – it also highlights the beauty of Jamaican culture and music.
Michael Duke took over the role of Marley from Arinzé Kene in March 2022, adding his own flare to the musical icon (with David Albury taking the baton for the show’s final weeks before it closes in January). With a Jamaican heritage of his own, Duke is eager to present the creativity and resilience of Jamaican people in his run. Furthermore, the part carries on his mission as an actor to create an environment where people feel seen and represented. The Upcoming caught up with the actor to discuss his influences for the role, his favourite song to perform from the musical, and how his work on The Inheritance differs from Get Up, Stand Up!.
How did you first get involved in theatre?
I used to go to a Saturday school called Italia Conti in Clapham, London – I used to train there every Saturday. They had a main school which I ended up getting a scholarship to, and attended from the age 11 to 16. And that’s kind of how I got into it in terms of training. They also had an agency, so I was able to do my first job through them as well.
Did you grow up on Bob Marley’s music and do you have any childhood memories associated with him?
I don’t really have any childhood memories of him, really, but I did grow up listening to Bob Marley and lots of other reggae artists. I mean, he was sort of in a bunch of many different reggae and gospel artists that I used to listen to growing up. They were always on in the house – people like Beres Hammond, Luciano Mesenjah and lots of lovers’ rock music too!
Which aspects of Bob Marley’s story resonate with you the most?
I guess what I resonate most with is his mission as an artist: he was political and he had a goal with his music, which I quite relate to. I wouldn’t call myself political or anything, but I resonate with the sense of using your platform to raise awareness, or to empower a community. I resonate with that because it’s really important for me to use my work to do such things, you know?
What’s your favourite Bob Marley song to perform?
Concrete Jungle! It’s very cool; it’s performed with The Wailers, and I have my guitar. It’s just a very cool number – the lyrics are great, and it’s from my favourite album of his, Catch a Fire.
You previously talked about wanting to share Jamaican culture through this role. What parts of your heritage are you particularly interested in showcasing to the world?
I think there’s a creativity and a resilience in Jamaican people, you know? There is so much oppressive history and so many – I suppose – negative aspects of our culture, because of its histories. But so much has flourished from that, in terms of the way of our thinking, our spiritual beliefs, our music and things like that. And that is so important to share!
You took over the role from Arinzé Kene. Is there anything about his performance that you took on board tackling the role?
Yeah, I guess so. Maybe not his performance, but I enjoyed watching him in the rehearsal process. It was great to see him grow into the role and to see his work ethic.
Besides Get Up, Stand Up!, what are some of your career highlights?
I would say most recently – well, it wasn’t that recent at all – but probably The Inheritance, which was an incredible two-part play. It was seven hours long and there were about four intervals or something like that. But that was probably my favourite. What I loved about that show is that the people who come and watch it, they have a direct experience with the subject matter, and it’s really humbling to share these stories and represent these people on stage, seeing the reaction and the emotional impact that it has on them. For me, that’s a really humbling experience, and, like I said before, that’s the reason we do what we do as artists, you know? And so that role was probably one of the highlights of my career.
How do the audiences compare between Get Up, Stand Up! and The Inheritance?
They are two completely different audiences, but the things that bring them together are that these minorities have been subjected to oppression or discrimination. And just showing the beauty and the resilience, the things that manifested from all of those things – it really gives these audiences a connection. Whether it is racism or the AIDS epidemic, we’re talking about communities of people who went through some stuff, but from it came beautiful things and incredible stories.
Does having subject matter based in reality influence how you approach things in rehearsals?
I just think you have a duty as an artist, because as an artist you are – for lack of better words – a servant and a shaman, you know? We are just on the stage not to be looked at and admired, but to create an environment for people to express and emote and feel seen and represented. So, when you’re working with these sort of themes that are social, political – whatever it is – you have a duty to honour those things and to be as authentic and sensitive as possible.
You’ve been in a lot of theatre, specifically on the West End. Have you thought of branching out beyond theatre in the UK?
Yeah! I mean, I’m open to wherever it takes me. It really just depends on the project and the opportunities that are there.
You’re performing as Bob Marley until October 2022 – that’s a lot of performances! How do you personally get through the longer days of rehearsals and shows?
I preserve my energy quite a lot when I’m not performing so that when I am I can give it as much as I have got that day. But I just have fun! I have to remember to have fun, even when I’m tired or whatever I might feel. The ultimate thing for me to remember is to just enjoy it, and just have fun. And that’s how I get through it.
Get Up, Stand Up! is on at the Lyric Shaftesbury Avenue until 8th January 2023. For further information or to book visit the production’s website here.