Once On This Island

Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Listing details and ticket info...

Once On This Island: The Company Credit: Marc Brenner
Chris Jarman as Tonton and Gabrielle Brooks as Ti Moune Credit: Marc Brenner
Anelisa Lamolo as Asaka (centre), Gabrielle Brooks as Ti Moune and Enemble Credit: Marc Brenner
Stephenson Ardern-Sodje as Daniel and Gabrielle Brooks as Ti Moune Credit: Marc Brenner
Chris Jarman as Tonton, Gabrielle Brooks as Ti Moune and Natasha Magigi as Mama Euralie Credit: Marc Brenner
Chris Jarman as Tonton, Natasha Magigi as Mama Euralie and Ensemble Credit: Marc Brenner

Based on Rosa Guy’s novel My Love, My Love (itself a version Hans Andersen’s Little Mermaid), this story of love across the class divide is framed as a story told to a little girl frightened by a savage storm. Director Ola Ince updates that to a marketplace where militia disrupt life, her production reflecting the violence of the modern world.

The telling moves fluently between narration and action and is almost completely sung-through to lilting, calypso-influenced music that is dramatic and joyful with emotions often exploding in Kendrick “H2O” Sandy and Niquelle LaTouche’s choreography of stamping feet and rippling bodies.

Peasant girl Ti Moune is innocent but feisty. Gabrielle Brooks gives her charm and a strong voice. When she finds Daniel ((Stephenson Ardern-Sodje) badly injured in a car crash, she is convinced that the gods have sent her to save his life.

Pale-skinned Daniel is a grand homme, scion of a rich family in the city. When Ti Mounte follows him there, he at first doesn’t remember her, but soon it seems to turn into a real love story. It won’t be a happy one, their two worlds aren’t meant to mix, but the gods who control things provide a calm if sad ending.

Georgia Lowe’s setting uses metal towers like Greek periaktoi lined with colour-changing lighting strips that can become bird-housing forest trees or turn mirrored faces when Ti Moune reaches the city. Melissa Simon-Hartman dresses these Vodou deities in exotic and imaginative costumes and the city’s smart society in glamorous glitter. With a huge puppet to help act out episodes of the island’s past history and gods that can ring the centre stage with fire or flood, what seems simple staging becomes full of colour and movement.

With Anelisa Lamola as Asaka, the Earth goddess, Lejaun Sheppard Papa Ge, the Death god, and Emilie Louise Israel as love goddess Erizule and Ashley Samuels as sea god Agwe, the immortals are strikingly presented. Chris Jarman and Natasha Magigi bring a kindly humanity to the couple who are Ti Moune’s adoptive parents and the ensemble exuding energy throughout the show’s non-stop ninety minutes.

Dialogue is minimal and heavy accents and the sound of Dan Ellis’s superb drumming drowning out much of the singing make it hard to decipher a lot of the lyrics, but you can still follow the story and the sheer energy on stage is infectious. On press night, Agwe perhaps didn’t flood the stage quite as fully as expected, but he did keep the rain off. Let’s hope that stays so for the whole run, for the Open Air Theatre is a delight on a fine night.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?