Once On This Island by British Theatre Academy.
Once On This Island tells of Ti Moune, a young girl who lives on the side of the island the peasants inhabit. She however falls in love with Daniel, a boy from the rich side of the island. The gods, Erzule, Asaka, Papa Ge and Agwe watch over her as she follows her heart and ties to win his love.
Lee Proud is the director and choreographer for Once on This Island and his vision for this show starts as soon as the audience enter the auditorium. The young cast are dotted around the stage which runs through the centre of the audience. They interact with the audience as they arrive making it firmly clearly that we are not in South London any more.
Proud’s staging and choreography ensures that there is rarely a static moment on stage and that the stage feels as alive as the island they inhabit. The tree that Ti Moune is found in at the start of the show is a ladder on a moving board, cleverly manoeuvred throughout the show to ensure that Ti Moune can always return back to her tree. Equally other items take on different uses, such as coloured plastic bags become ball gowns or nets become the torrential rain.
The choreography is energetic with a lovely contrast of two styles of dance depending on which side of the island we are on at that moment. The dance itself is performed precisely and with real guts by the cast, especially when we are on the peasants side of the island.
The singing is equally as impressive and musical director Chris Ma has brought out rich harmonies from the score. With many of the cast taking on solos they all bring unique voices to the company which works brilliantly in creating the sounds of the island.
Ti Moune is played by Chrissie Bhima and to say that she is a star is the making would be doing Bhima a disservice as she already has star quality, despite her relatively young age. She radiated warmth on stage and her number ‘Waiting For Life,’ was a literal show stopper with the audience refusing to stop their applause.
The quartet of gods were played by Martin Cush Papa Ge, Jonathan Chen as Asaka, Aviva Tulley as Erzulie and Kyle Birch as Agwe. They each had a great stage personality and they were all given their moment to shine to get this across even further. Tulley delivers the love song ‘The Human Heart’ which is full of tenderness and Chen brings sass and a vivacious personality to ‘Mama Will Provide.’
Once On This Island is a show that I am thrilled to have discovered and even more thrilled that it was BTA and this vibrant version that brought it to life for me.
NB – I don’t normally give star ratings for amateur or youth shows but with the standard of Once On This Island I couldn’t help myself.
Once On This Island is running at the Southwark Playhouse until 31st August. Check out their website for more information and tickets.