The British Theatre Academy pour their heart and soul into this vibrant production of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s musical.

(c)Eliza Wilmot

With its carnival vibe running throughout this lively and enthusiastic production directed by Lee Proud, the British Theatre Academy have once again selected a show that perfectly captures the talent they produce.

The one act musical begins with a storm and villagers comforting a young girl by telling her the story of the peasant girl Ti Moune and her romance with rich city boy Daniel whose life she saves after an accident. It is a slightly flimsy plot on the surface, but it does cover important issues such as social inequality as highlighted by the separate parts of the island and attitudes from the upper classes towards Ti Moune.

Lynn Ahren’s book and lyrics has a clear and strong storytelling thread that runs right through Once on This Island, keeping the audience thoroughly engaged – particularly helped by the diversity in Stephen Flaherty’s tropical inspired music. Musical highlights include the lively and joyful ‘Waiting For Life’ that captures Ti Moune’s passionate nature and the free spiritedness of her personality, while the gorgeous ‘Forever Yours’ is suitably romantic sounding. Each song beautifully captures the story and drives it forward.

Meanwhile, Lee Proud’s production captures effectively the youthful exuberance of Ti Moune and her naivety at the way in which the world really works – reinforcing the message that there are barriers in life that can be difficult to overcome. This being said, it also conveys just how powerful love can be – beautifully captured in the moments in which Ti Moune takes care of Daniel. It is always heartfelt and compelling to watch.

But it is also a production that is imaginative and bold in its design, with Andrew Exeter’s lighting design gorgeously effective and transformative in key moments such as during the numbers ‘Some Girls’ and ‘A Part of Us’. Simon Wells has clearly used plenty of flair and creativity in his designs, effectively sweeping the audience off to the French Antilles and wrapping the set around them to make us feel as close to the action as possible.

It has to be said that there are moments in which it feels as though the audience is too close to the action – particularly during the more lively dance routines which could use a bit more space to really be effective.

But throughout it all, the cast are all extremely enthusiastic and showcase powerful talent consistently. In particular, Chrissie Bhima as Ti Moune is impressive both vocally and her acting, giving the character a wonderful exuberance that makes her immensely enjoyable to watch. Her rendition of ‘Waiting for Life’ is extremely impressive. Elsewhere, there is also strong support from Maria-Anna Caufour as Euralie and Avivia Tulley as as Erzule both impressing with extraordinarily rich vocals.

This is a warm-hearted and affectionate production that brings the story vividly to life with plenty of energy and sincerity.

By Emma Clarendon

Once on This Island will play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 31st August.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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