Book and lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
Music: Stephen Flaherty
Director and choreographer: Lee Proud
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Continuing The British Theatre Academy’s 2019 Summer Season, Once On This Island is a revival of a short musical which was seen on Broadway in 1990 and in the West End in 1994, the latter production winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
The show is based on My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl, a 1985 novel by Rosa Guy, telling a mystical tale that has strong echoes of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. The story is infused with the flavour of its Caribbean island setting, with local superstitions and folklore intervening along the way.
A little girl, Ti Moune (Kassidy Taylor at this performance), is orphaned in a storm and adopted by the peasants Euralie (Marie-Anna Caufour) and Tonton (Andre Beswick).
Having grown up, Ti Moune is played by Chrissie Bhima, who gives a terrific star performance. It is now her turn to become a rescuer and, when she finds the young upper class Frenchman, Daniel (Sam Tutty), injured in a car crash, she nurses him back to health. After his family has reclaimed Daniel, Ti Moune pursues him across mountains to the far side of the island only to find man-made barriers standing in her way. The social divisions in the story are about class and director Lee Proud takes care to make sure that they are not seen to be about race.
Proud, a vastly experienced choreographer, packs the traverse stage with movement and colour, sometimes using the entire company of 19. Atmospheric lighting, designed by Andrew Exeter, and Simon Wells’ flamboyant costumes help to transport us to a tropical paradise and the overflowing exuberance of the performers does the rest. The show is virtually sung through, Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics telling the story concisely and clearly. Stephen Flaherty’s easy listening, melodic score combines calypso influenced numbers with power ballads, all sung and played beautifully under the musical direction of Chris Ma.
Running at around 85 minutes without an interval, the show is just short enough to ensure that it runs out of neither story not musical variety, not to mention energy. It brings a brief splash of tropical sunshine into our lives.
Runs until 31 August 2019 | Image: Eliza Wilmott