90’s musical, Once on This Island resurges in the 21st Century as a vibrant, whimsical tale about Ti Moune – an orphan peasant girl, yearning for true love, whatever the cost.
The British Theatre Academy’s production at Southwark Playhouse certainly brings across the energy of the show – from the casting to the carrier bag dresses, it’s a beautiful, tribal, junk yard creation. Designer Simon Wells must be praised for his innovation – from the Gods’ headdresses formed from old plastic bottles and shower heads, to the Beuxhommes’ wrist ruffles made from old newspaper – the attention to detail is exquisite.
Once on This Island is an ensemble heavy piece, and the cast take this in their stride with energetic choreography and stunning vocals welcoming us with opening number, ‘We Dance’. This energy continues throughout, with plenty of laughs – especially in Asaka’s song ‘Mama Will Provide’, sung by the talented and hilarious Jonathan Chen.
The two stand out performances come from Chrissie Bhima as lead, Ti Moune; her voice darts between soft and belt with ease, sending chills up the spine. She plays Ti Moune with a childlike naivety that you can’t help but fall in love with. The second stand-out is Marie-Ann Caufour as Mama Euralie, with gut-wrenching, yet beautiful vocals in ‘A Part of Us’. These women are not alone, though – the cast as a whole pull the production together, creating a truly glorious, toe-tapping production.
Nevertheless, this musical comes with its misogynistic 90’s downfalls, which rub awkwardly against progressive 2019 minds. Ti Moune’s love interest, the wealthy Daniel Beauxhomme sees her purely as an object of desire, disregarding her strength and fetishising her blackness. He compares her to the other women he socialises with in cringe-worthy number ‘Some Girls’, placing women into two neat little categories: “Some girls you marry, some girls you love” and “some girls you learn from, others you teach”; this musical could definitely do with some updating, as the curtain closes and you are left feeling disheartened by Ti Moune’s treatment and Daniel’s lack of redemption.
We are in desperate need of more stories where women are recognised for their strength of character, and their pursuit for something other than a man – unfortunately, this musical does neither. Of course, this does not disregard the talented cast and fantastic production value, however, it’s worth keeping in mind that these misogynistic musicals are in need of a feminist rewrite.