Once on this Island
Reviewed – 14th August 2019
“The energy and commitment of the cast is undeniable, as is their pure joy in performing”
Once On This Island is set in the French Antilles, and tells the story of a young peasant girl, Ti Moune, who falls in love with a Frenchman, Daniel, who lives in the grand hotel on the other side of the island. Ti Moune’s love plays out as part of a battle between the gods Papa Ge (the demon of death) and Erzule (the goddess of love) as to who is the strongest, and although Ti Moune ends up cast aside by her lover, in favour of a French noble woman, the gods look kindly on her loyalty to Daniel, and she is reincarnated as a tree, which eventually grows, cracks the hotel gates and allows future generations to live together in harmony. The story is part Romeo and Juliet, part Little Mermaid, and the score is rich in calypso and Caribbean rhythms.
The musical is one of The British Theatre Academy’s summer shows, and, with its nineteen strong cast, Once On This Island is a perfect choice to showcase the talents of its alumni. Lee Proud (director) runs a tight ship, and the production is pacy and professional, with every performer, from the leads to the ensemble, giving their all 100% of the time, which is fantastic to see. The energy and commitment of the cast is undeniable, as is their pure joy in performing. Inevitably, there are weaker links here, but the strength of the collective is such that it doesn’t matter. Similarly, some of the more hackneyed choreography and design choices are glossed over by the brio of the production as a whole.
That said, the high-octane energy could become relentless, and both the production and certain individual performances would have benefitted from a bit more light and shade. This wasn’t helped by the sound, which was deafening. The Southwark Playhouse is a relatively small space, and, although it is now done as a matter of course, this reviewer again questioned the necessity of miking up the performers. The audience is perfectly capable of hearing the singers at such close quarters, and miked-up singing exaggerates an already-present musical theatre stridency in many of the voices. Clarity and vocal strength, however, were on point throughout.
Chrissie Bhima, as Ti Moune, demonstrated terrific tone and control, and made the most of her belters, especially her opening number ‘Waiting for Life’, but the voice of the evening was that of Aviva Tulley, who was masterful throughout and truly came into her own with her showstopper ‘The Human Heart’. Already a subtle, expressive, powerful performer, she is bound to have an exciting future. Credit too to Marie-Anna Caufour for her touching performance as Euralie, Ti Moune’s adopted mother, and to Jonathan Chen for his rousing portrayal of the Earth Mother Asaka.
Once On This Island is not a particularly arresting musical, lyrically, musically or in terms of its story, but it is lots of fun. And this particular production feels like a celebration, full of youthful energy and love. And that really ain’t a bad thing to be a part of on a summer evening.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Eliza Wilmot
Once on this Island
Southwark Playhouse until 31st August
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Chicken Shed Theatre
Reviewed – 30th November 2017
“navigates the line between what is real and what imaginary skilfully”
Chickenshed’s Rapunzel is an utter joy. Ambitious and energetic; a visual and musical beauty, with a strong take home message to celebrate the power of your imagination. I left with a warm glow in my heart and a lasting tingle down my spine. This production is a must-see.
The cast of talented and dynamic children and adults were always committed and eye-catching. At all points, the stage was active and engaging, and the team of choreographers must be commended for their innovation. From dryads, to gnomes, to spiders and traders, every cluster had a distinct way of moving and communicating. I felt the work behind every performance and every moment, and am filled with respect and awe for the creatives. Cerys Lambert, sixteen-year-old babysitter Hazel and, in her dreams (or her reality…), Rapunzel, played the nuances of her role with grace and warmth. Culminating in ‘I Want It All’, this rendition of Rapunzel focuses on finding yourself, ‘searching, falling, losing, learning’, and is a spot-on contemporary reclamation of traditional, gender-stereotypical fairy tales.
Lucy Sierra’s set, expertly lit by Andrew Caddies, was a dream to behold. Textured walls, secret cubby holes, and Rapunzel’s tower, concealed by netted leaves, all contributed to the atmosphere of discovery, excitement, and subtle darkness, which the story handles bravely. Simon Wells’ costumes were striking, novel and wonderfully varied. This production created so many exquisite pictures: perfectly-timed spotlights during songs; flying lanterns, to which the little boy next to me said ‘wow!’ under his breath; moving seamlessly between small groups of performers to a stage full to the brim; chaotic, but with intention, and always artful. At one moment, Rapunzel’s mesmerising theme, the most memorable of all the music, ‘Sweet the Dream’, washed over the auditorium, and her shape was visible in the tower, lit up behind the leaves. I was immersed in the magical world which Chickenshed concocted.
Lou Stein’s script weaves in and out of sprightly and lilting rhyming verse. The lyrics, which he wrote alongside composer Dave Carey, are occasionally excessive, and the jokes can be a little too knowing. Gemilla Shamruk had magnetic stage presence, though her sexy song was a little jarring, and somewhat disrupted the tone of her evil. But mostly, it was very refreshing to have the content of a traditional story challenged, to include far-reaching references outside of its world, and keep audiences on their toes. Rapunzel is consistently well-paced, and it navigates the line between what is real and what imaginary skilfully, originally and to spine-tingling effect, such that I was left believing in both worlds equally.
To mention the performances I was impressed by would entail listing all the names in the programme; but I particularly enjoyed Will Lawrence and Nathaniel Leigertwood’s tricksy and witty double-act; and Loren Jacobs and Belinda McGuirk’s mythical dryads and their counterparts, who sustained their eerie stature throughout, whilst taking turns to sign the show. Chickenshed created an equal stage for everyone who was on it, and for audiences alike. Though individuals shone, the fabric of the show is woven by the miraculous thing which happens when people of all shapes, sizes and forms of expression come together to make something they believe in.
The electrifying, flawless live band elevated Rapunzel yet further, and Dave Carey’s fantastic orchestration was eclectic and exciting. The audience were riveted and attention never lulled. I am still flicking through the very well assembled programme. Go and see Rapunzel today, and discover ‘what you are made of, and what you can be’!
Reviewed by Eloise Poulton
Photography by Daniel Beacock
is at the Chicken Shed Theatre until 6th January 2018