ONCEON THIS ISLAND

16 Aug

book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
From the novel by Rosa Guy.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
The Island is in the West Indies. You can guess that as the map of Cuba is painted on the floor, and the clothes of the actors are colourful and exotic. Before the show, they wander about the audience, some selling goods from a basket, some carrying sticks of bamboo, some just talking among themselves. Then the show starts and when it does – WOW.  Nothing like this has ever happened before in my life. The entire company of all shapes and sizes go into a long number ‘We dance’, and there is dancing like I’ve never seen before. Lee Proud is the most inventive choreographer in the business, and the dance methods in this show are gritty, quirky and appropriate to the Caribbean style, rhythm and attitudes.
It is a story of the power of love which can survive abandonment, disgrace, class,  and even death.  The Island is ruled by four magnificent gods who supervise the lives of the people and help the story along. Alaska, the Earth Mother;  Agwe rules the water and brings the hurricanes; Erzule is the love goddess, and Papa Ge is Death.
Ti Moune is a native peasant girl who longs to join the world of the    wealthy French settlers who live on the other side of the Island.  She finds a dying young man, injured by the hurricane conjured up by Agwe.   He is Daniel Beauxhomme, son of the Island’s richest man.  He is dying from his injuries and all hope is gone, but Ti Moune persuades Papa Ge to take her life instead of his. By loving and ,  tending him, restores him to life until his family come to take him home.
Ti Moune believes her love is great enough to withstand the differences between them and goes on the hazardous journey across the land to the Hotel owned by Daniel’s father.  Ti Moune is played with enormous passion by Chrissie Bhima. Sam Tutty as Daniel is a gentle white boy who sings very sweetly in contrast to the powerful singing of the Peasants.
The company all have strong voices. They are members of the British Theatre Academy.  An organisation which works with people under the age of 23 who get to work with professional actors in West End productions. The Association has a high success rate and this must be the jewel in its crown.
They have had the luck to involve Le Proud to devise the movement and also to direct the production.  He has managed to inject the atmosphere of the  Carribean into every single scene, and the dancing is inventive and perfectly performed by the young artists.
From the very beginning number, the whole company are completely in accord with each other – and well-drilled, not a single step or gesture out of place.
The Musical first appeared here about fifteen years ago and there is a company on tour in America in preparation for a return Broadway in the Autumn.  It would be good if this could have a longer West End Run. It is something quite special.

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