Review - Once On This Island - Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Once On This Island - Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

The premise of Once On This Island is one we have seen many times before - a peasant girl falls in love with a gentleman of a higher class, but alas he has been promised to someone else and they cannot be together. Add in some additional characters, some Haitian voodoo, and Once On This Island makes for an enjoyable, yet slightly confusing, evening of entertainment.

From the moment the first characters appear on stage, you are transported to the tropical island of Haiti, full of colour, music, and laughter. The ensemble explodes onto the scene with energetic choreography, which starts the show on a high and is integral in bringing the story to life. Kudos must go to Kenrick H2OSandy and Niquelle LaTouche (choreographer and associate choreographer) for their authentic and powerful choreography, which adds depth to the story and is well-integrated consistently throughout. 

The Open Air Theatre is the perfect setting for this performance. The natural sound effects of birds chirping in the trees and the rustling of leaves in the breeze create an atmosphere that has you believing youre on the island with the characters. There was a particularly poignant moment in which the characters were discussing Asaka, the Goddess of Earth, when two birds soared overhead, squawking as if they were part of the story too. The production team couldnt have planned it better if they had tried!

One thing in particular that strikes me about this show is the fact the characters create such a compelling connection with the audience that every trial and tribulation is experienced alongside them. Gabrielle Brooks is the perfect Ti Moune, who bursts onto the scene with such energy and vigour - something I feel is unfairly taken from her towards the end of the story. We dont hear anything from her until she begins Waiting For Life To Beginand what a way to start her journey. Her voice is powerful, passionate, and polished, and Ti Mounes determination is evident throughout. She plays perfectly opposite Stephenson Ardern-Sodje in the role of Daniel. Although his character is much more toned down compared to Ti Mounes fiery persona, Ardern-Sodje comes to life in Some Girls, showcasing a cheeky, yet charming personality that is hidden well beneath the surface of his character. 

Natasha Magigi and Chris Jarman are kind, commanding, and caring as Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian, Ti Mounes parents, who dote on her every move. They develop such a bond with the audience that I found myself close to tears as we witnessed Tontons mistreatment at the hands of the grands hommes'. The four gods; Asaka, Mother of the Earth (Anelisa Lamola), Agwé, God of Water (Ashley Samuels), Erzulie, Goddess of Love (Emilie Louis Israel), and Papa Ge, Demon of Death (Lejaun Sheppherd) each maintain an incomparable sense of individuality, demonstrating their unique impact on Ti Mounes story. Anelisa Lamola is a stand-out in this role; her charisma, energy, and confidence are enough to inspire even the quietest mouse on earth to shout as loud as a tooting elephant!

It is important to acknowledge that this story touches on several delicate subjects, including racism, colourism, love, and grief, but does so in a considerate, yet impactful way. The fast pace of the show allows the story to briefly visit each of these emotional themes but moves along before there is a drastic change in the mood. However, despite the impassioned performances of every character, the story feels unfinished and rushed, especially towards the end. Watching the once confident, independent, and determined Ti Moune reduced to a quivering wreck, whose soul focus is a boy who doesnt love her back, is disappointing and I feel it hugely discredits her fierce persona.

That being said, the overall production value is glorious. With soulful calypso numbers and emotional ballads alongside the perfect outdoor setting, Once On This Island provides a visit to Haiti Ill remember for a long time.

This show was reviewed on the 18th May 2023.  Once On This Island runs at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until the 10th June 2023.  Tickets available here: Once On This Island | Open Air Theatre

*** stars

Jasmine Richards

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Photo credit: Marc Brenner