Once On This Island

Directed by Ola Ince, Once On This Island has all the hallmarks of a myth; the gods meddling in human life, a quest with high stakes, and a chosen one going on a journey. Based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, Once On This Island is composed by Stephen Flaherty, with book and lyrics by Lynne Ahrens, a figment of magical realism onstage set against acoustic beats.

Makes us hope for a happy ending, or a world where the divisions do not matter

The narrative may be familiar to many. It’s a tale about a young peasant girl, Ti Moune (Gabrielle Brooks) who falls in love with Daniel Beauxhomme (Stephenson Ardern-Sodje) - a grand homme - while she is nursing him back to health. She follows him to the city, unaware of the meddling and bet between the goddess of Love, Erzulie (Emilie Louise Israel) and the demon of Death, Papa Ge (Lejaun Sheppard) about whether love or death is stronger.

Throughout this musical, we can see parallels with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, but retold in a Haitian setting where the challenges that need to be overcome are man-made instead of magical. It’s an unexpected story despite the familiarity of the inspiration, because we expect a neat resolution; we expect it to end well for it to be neatly tied up in the end. Ince’s direction makes us hope for something more, and lulls us into a false sense of security and tricks us into thinking that we know what is going to happen. The decision to immerse us from the start in the class divisions of the island sets the theme, using the distance of a retold myth to gently teach us about the social context of this show.

From the start, the design team indulges us in a sensory experience, overwhelming us with the sounds of birds, waves and bathing us in warmth to ground us in the setting. The minimalist approach contextualises the action without distracting from the company’s role as a Greek chorus. Georgia Lowe’s scaled back set design is extremely versatile, adding the odd set dressing piece to direct our imaginations, transforming from a beach to a grand hotel banquet hall without much fuss. The trees from the park do add a naturalism to the more stylistic aspects in Lowe’s set, and considering how important nature is in this show, the effect that the trees have by jsut framing the stage is just really lovely. Nick Lidster’s sound design pushes more dramatic moments a step further, taking the role of set at times where set would hamper the cast’s movements. The lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun uses colour association for the different characters to subtly direct us where the story is going,which creates a rather otherwordly effect, especially when the gods come onstage. The lights add a warmth to the stage, making it look less industrial and bare with the warmth of the lights.

The cast really makes you feel for these characters, to become emotionally invested in the outcome of Ti Moune’s quest. They act as a Greek chorus, narrating and voicing otherwise unheard thoughts, creating striking visuals. Brooks has an incredibly powerful voice that she showcases throughout the musical in her role as Ti Moune, but none so much as in Waiting For Life, an ‘I Want’ song that with Brooks’ performance, surpasses want into a hubristic declaration. Brooks gives Ti Moune such an innate goodness - that the more jaded among us might take for naivety - that we cannot help but want to shielf the character from any sort of harm or negativity.

Once On This Island is an incredibly bittersweet story, it makes us hope for a happy ending, or a world where the divisions do not matter, and makes us forget reality for a moment. But the tragic nature of a myth is that it holds a mirror to our own faults and fallacies. This is an incredibly wonderful story that fits perfectly with the surrounding nature of the Open Air Theatre.

Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

The Crazy Coqs

BOUM! C'est Chantastique

★★★★★
The Mill at Sonning Theatre

Gypsy

★★★★
Coronet Theatre Ltd

Lovefool

★★★★★
Royal Festival Hall, South Bank

Phil Wang: Wang in There, Baby!

★★★★
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Once On This Island

★★★★
Southwark Playhouse Theatre Company Ltd.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

A musical story of love, grief, faith and hope, Once On This Island tells of peasant girl Ti Moune, a boy called Daniel, and a union that prejudice forbids. Against the heat of the Caribbean sun and destruction of tropical storms, can Ti Moune settle the wager of the Gods, and prove that love is more powerful than death?

Most Popular See More

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Mousetrap

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £54.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets