Once On This Island: Southwark Playhouse, London
Reviewed 15th August 2019
Bringing the hit Olivier and Tony Award winning Broadway show, Once On This Island, to the UK the acclaimed British Theatre Academy sets out to immerse the audience with the colourful, calypso-flavoured retelling of the Little Mermaid fairy tale. Set on a Caribbean island the show follows the romance between Ti Moune, a peasant girl, and the rich boy whose life she saves. However the Island Gods have a different path for her story…
It’s safe to say that the future of Musical Theatre is in safe hands if the talent on offer at Once On This Island is anything to go by! Stunning vocals, enthusiastic, passionate dancing and skilful storytelling. It is amazing that these performers are all aged under 23 as they give a masterclass in storytelling! Chrissie Bhima is a natural star. Her pure enthusiasm and undeniable talent is spellbinding. She is vocally able to wow even the most discerning audience member but it is her commitment to the story and her stunning expression that make her one of the most engaging performers seen recently. The entire cast are incredible. The energy and commitment throughout the show is nothing short of excellent and given that they are all at the very start of their careers it is certain that we will see their names gracing the nations stages soon. Kyle Birch, Jonathon Chen, Aviva Tulley and Martin Cush who play the Island Gods each manage to give a powerful and strong performance, embodying their God throughout. Sam Tutty’s storytelling and acting is brilliant as Daniel. Marie-Anna Caufour’s rich vocals are gorgeous as Ti Moune’s Mother.
The original songs by Stephen Flaherty are uplifting and joyful. The Caribbean flavour comes through with each song. The contrast of the songs is also brilliant and helps to keep the pace of the story. Each song is performed excellently by the cast, they help to transport the audience to the Caribbean and beyond, into a world of legends and Gods. It is hard not to come out of the show humming along. The direction and choreography by Lee Proud is second-to-none. The use of a fairly small traverse stage makes the show very intimate and immersive but also adds constraints to the level of choreography allowed. This doesn’t seem to have affected Lee Proud’s vision and creativity though. The choreography is lively, energetic and fun. Drawing influences from different styles, including tribal dances, every move has been carefully planned and is executed brilliantly by the cast. Again, the direction throughout is superb and allows for every audience member to fully engage with the characters, no matter where in the auditorim you are sitting. The characters and their actions feel honest and means that the audience can build a connection and empathy with them.
The clever design by Simon Wells helps transport the audience to the small island and the use of recycled items is particularly impressive. The limited number of props works well and the use of a step ladder throughout the show is a novel idea and is cleverly interwoven into the story. Managing to highlight the tense moments, bring the God’s storms to life and yet still capture the joy of the show too, the lighting by Andrew Exeter is excellent and adds to the story.
Once On This Island is a triumph! A fun, joyful and yet emotional take on a classic tale. With top vocals, clever storytelling, energetic choreography and tonnes of talent this show should definitely be on your must see list this summer!
Once On This Island plays at the Southwark Playhouse, London until the 31st August. For tickets and information click here.
Photo Credit: Eliza Wilmot