We’re very big fans of the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park – it’s a magical setting, one in which we’ve seen many of our favourite shows over the years. We were excited for the revival of Once On This Island – it’s a show that’s previously won plenty of accolades: the original West End run won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, while the most recent Broadway production picked up a Tony Award for Best Musical Revival. The show is based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, which is a Caribbean-set retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Little Mermaid.
This production has plenty going for it – the set starts off a little sparse but becomes much more interesting as the show progresses, and elemental effects are used effectively at key moments. It is, of course, always wonderful watching shows unfold against the backdrop of a sunset in the enchanting surroundings of Regent’s Park. Musically the show impresses – the band sounds great and there are some talented singers within the cast.
While there were many aspects of the performance we enjoyed, we came away from the theatre feeling a little underwhelmed. We just weren’t all that sold on the story itself – it’s a fairly straightforward one about forbidden love, with our two central characters from very different backgrounds, and societal conventions getting in the way of them being together. There are some nicely-staged interventions from Haitian gods who bet on the outcome of their story, but ultimately, very little of interest actually happens during the show. Even at 90 minutes the pace often feels a little sluggish.
It’s a shame, as there are plenty of enjoyable component parts here – there really are some superb performances on display, most notably from Gabrielle Brooks – as Ti Moune, our protagonist – who impresses at every turn, and we did really enjoy several of the songs. We just spent quite a lot of the show waiting for something really interesting or exciting to happen, and walked away feeling as though that moment never really arrived.
GAY TIMES gives Once On This Island – 3/5
More information can be found here.