Once on This Island at Southwark Playhouse
The acclaimed musical Once on This Island, first performed in 1990, is revived at the Southwark Playhouse this summer as a youth production. Staying true to the book and lyrics of previous adaptations, the show portrays a heartbreaking star-crossed lovers story set in the Caribbean.
During most of Once On This Island one feels as if they are watching a fairytale unfold, with an ensemble of storytellers sharing the journey of a peasant girl, Ti Moune (Chrissie Bhima). We watch the gods look over her as she falls in love with her rich “prince” Daniel (Sam Tutty), a descendant of a French settler and a slave. However, unlike most fairytales that are pure fantasy, the production touches on the harsh reality of colonisation. The story shows the coloniser’s lasting effects on a country as Ti Moune is widely unaccepted in Daniel’s life due to her dark skin.
The standout feature of this performance is the vocals from the talented young cast. Each song’s delivery is powerful, with its own distinctive sound that carries us on the emotional wave of the story. Another admirable element is the set, which uses trash and ocean debris to craft costumes and props that create the aesthetic of an island and bring the setting to life. The performance itself doesn’t disappoint. Once on This Island’s successful reputation, however, feels awkward at certain points as it doesn’t adapt the representation of Daniel and Ti Moune’s relationship for an audience in the modern political climate.
It feels as if this piece missed the opportunity to address or explore the more questionable representations presented in the original production. Daniel’s song Some Girls calls Ti Moune a wildflower and a girl who he can teach rather than learn from. Despite expressing these racial and misogynist-charged statements, the themes are left untouched – we hardly sympathise with his character, in spite of the heartfelt music imploring us to do so – and especially in our modern political climate there is perhaps a need for Daniel’s actions to be addressed or at least explored further.
Once on This Island is a fun production featuring amazing talent. It is atmospheric and immensely engaging. Although perhaps outdated, the musical pays homage to previous adaptations and shines on its own merits simultaneously.
Photo: Eliza Wilmot
Once on This Island is at Southwark Playhouse from 9th August until 31st August 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.