Tag Archives: Ashley Samuels

Once On This Island

Once On This Island


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre


Once On This Island

“It is the score, the exuberance of the performances and the musicianship that carries this show”


Based on a book (‘My Love, My Love’ by Rosa Guy), in turn based on a fairy tale (Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’), “Once On This Island” has used the bare bones of each while dressing it with more than a touch of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, throwing in shades of Alberto Casella’s ‘Death Takes a Holiday’. It is a mix that produces something exciting and effervescent but is ultimately not so easy to swallow. Or follow.

Set in the Antilles archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea, the story within a story focuses on Ti Moune, a peasant girl, who falls in love with Daniel Beauxhomme, a ‘grand homme’ from the other side of the island and the class divide. The island is ruled by four Haitian Vodou Gods (of earth, water, love and death). Ti Moune and Beauxhomme are brought together as a result of a wager among the gods. Is love stronger than death? Or vice versa?

Directed by Ola Ince, it opens the new season at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. As dark clouds spill their empty threats over London, a fabricated storm ignites the stage and the action. A burst of sight and sound, but lacking real substance. It is the score, the exuberance of the performances and the musicianship that carries this show. Stephen Flaherty’s music (with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) creates the atmosphere and the setting, despite Georgia Lowe’s sparse backdrop that fails to give any real sense of location. As the sun sets, however, Jessica Hung Han Yun’s evocative lighting creates the requisite tropical hues that help us to forget the London chill.

The solid cast lead us through the musical numbers with an energy that keeps the piece alive. Gabrielle Brooks, as the adult Ti Moune, gives a powerful and enchanting performance, locked in the suffering of her unconditional love for Stephenson Arden-Sodje’s perfectly voiced yet undeserving Daniel. One fails to see how Daniel earns such devotion, nor can we truly understand the sacrifices Ti Moune makes for him. But after all, we are in the hands of the Gods, so it is best just to relish in the pageant. It is a show for the senses and not for the heart.

With a six-piece band – led by Musical Director Chris Poon- tucked away somewhere in the treetops, the ensemble cast are given the propulsion needed to reach for the stars, aided by some fine numbers. ‘Mama Will Provide’ lets Anelisa Lamola’s voice soar as Asaka, the Mother of the Earth. The standout is Lejaun Sheppard’s Papa Ge: Demon of Death, who sets the stage alight (literally) each time he appears. Yet each cast member is an indispensable pulse that keeps the beat throughout. The belting numbers ‘Waiting for Life’, ‘Pray’ and ‘Forever Yours’ early in the show are later reprised and given new life and meaning.

There is plenty of life in this revival of “Once On This Island” but not so much meaning. There is definitely enough to satisfy the senses in this little pocket of London where Camden borders the Caribbean.



Reviewed on 17th May 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Legally Blonde | ★★★ | May 2022
Romeo and Juliet | ★★★½ | June 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Night of the Living Dead Live!

Pleasance Theatre

Night of the Living Dead Live

Night of the Living Dead Live!

Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 16th April 2019



“full of unique and inventive ideas that create an air of originality to the play”


Based on George A. Romero’s classic 1968 movie of the same name, Night of the Living Dead Live! translates the horror story to the stage. This comedic adaptation is stylish and performed brilliantly with some exciting theatrical twists, however it doesn’t quite live up to its horror-comedy expectation.

The show opens with the murder of Ben (Ashley Samuels), who has been hiding in a house from ghouls, which are essentially zombies. Discovered by the Chief (Mike Bodie) and his sidekick Vince (Tama Phethean), the story then rewinds as we watch how the whole thing unfolded. An eclectic mix of characters assemble, including a squabbling couple, a soppy, loved up couple, and the seemingly vacant Barbara (Mari McGinlay). The first act follows the characters bicker and fight in their attempts at survival, and the second act then diverts from the original film narrative in its exploration of alternate endings; what if the leader of the group was a white, all-American man, or what if the leader was a woman? The show plays out every possibility to test which is the best method to survive the night of the living dead.

The production is full of unique and inventive ideas that create an air of originality to the play. Firstly, a section of the audience is seated on stage, dressed in boiler suits and shower caps, literally seated in the middle of the drama. These members of the audience are invisible to the characters on stage, but they are not safe from the blood splatters and violence that plays out before them; the seating area is quite literally called the ‘splatter zone’. To my relief, I wasn’t seated on stage, but I enjoyed watching those who were – their amusement and horror at being covered in blood became a comedic element in itself.

Secondly, the design of the production (Diego Pitarch) was stylish as it attempted to replicate the black and white aesthetic of the movie. The actors were all painted and dressed monochromatically, as was the entire set, and this was really effective in creating the old movie tone that laced the script and performance in general. This tone was heightened in the use of music; tense country music introduced the scenes (soundscape and compositions Samuel West) alongside dramatic, horror movie sounds (sound design James Nicholson and Paul Gavin) that kept all the audience on the edge of their seats – I heard people gasp and felt them jump when these sound effects were played. The production understood the importance of sound in creating tension and exploited it to its full advantage.

Similarly, performances were strong all round, and every actor managed to intentionally embody that awkward style of the stilted, old-Hollywood performers. Jennifer Harding was a real stand-out, playing two very contrasting characters with absolute conviction and perfect comedy- both the characters of Helen and Judy became a joy to watch. Benji Sperring’s direction was neat and flowed nicely, and he certainly lived up to his ambition of wanting to make theatre fun.

That said, there were moments in the drama that lacked significant tension that the design and performances couldn’t disguise. The play started off with a lot of promise but it took too long to progress the narrative. The mix of horror and comedy felt natural to the piece, but the first act slowed in certain places and while the second act redeemed it, picking up the pace, the repetitive structure seemed to stunt its potential rather than push it further. While some jokes sparked, other felt laboured and I felt restless rewatching certain pieces of dialogue over and over. Despite that, the stakes were definitely raised in the second act, and they became higher and higher culminating in a fun and bizarre conclusion that definitely ends the show on the high.

Having not seen the original film, I was worried that some references would go right over my head, and perhaps that’s why I struggled to connect the whole time. I could tell some people responded well to the play and I have no doubt that those on stage had a really fun evening out because it does provide a unique theatrical experience. However, sat in the stalls I sometimes felt like there was a private joke I was missing out on. I’m sure fans of the film will have a great time, but despite its style and energy, I have to admit I was left a little confused and alienated by the whole thing.


Reviewed by Tobias Graham

Photography by Claire Bilyard


Night of the Living Dead Live!

Pleasance Theatre until 19th May


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Moonfleece | ★★★ | March 2018
Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy | ★★★★ | April 2018
Dames | ★★★½ | April 2018
Spiked | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Gym Thing | ★★★★ | May 2018
Bingo | ★★★ | June 2018
Aid Memoir | ★★★ | October 2018
One Duck Down | ★★★★★ | October 2018
The Archive of Educated Hearts | ★★★★ | October 2018
Call Me Vicky | ★★★ | February 2019


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