Review Round Up: Once on this Island, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Find out what has been said about Ola Ince’s production of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty‘s musical

(c)Marc Brenner

Broadway World: **** “Director Ola Ince keeps the action moving at a cracking pace and, despite no break in the ninety-minute runtime, there are no discernably dull moments. Her visual style is both exciting and ambitious: actors and musicians make superb use of the space outside the main stage; Daniel’s French ancestor Armand is portrayed as a huge puppet head and hands; fierce fire licks the borders whenever Pape Ge turns up the heat; and water cascades down the stage as Ti Moune descends into the ocean.”

Evening Standard: **** “As a reappraisal of a classic, potentially kitschy musical, Ince’s production ranks alongside Jamie Lloyd’s dazzling, revisionist Evita at this venue in 2019. Seriously, when did the Open Air Theatre get so cool? Once On This Island is a brisk, energising piece of theatre. It’ll be even better on a hot night.”

The Guardian: *** “Ince’s fluid, forward-facing production confronts the story’s cruelty and channels some terrific choreography by Kenrick “H20” Sandy. A tangled throng will suddenly snap into patterns, or hymn nature with curving hips and circling arms. On Georgia Lowe’s undecorated stage, it’s the cast that summon the environment – carolling like birds, waving like trees. Only gradually is the stage licked by flame or filled with the gods’ own tears.”

Theatre Weekly: “It’s a talented cast all round, Courtney-Mae Briggs shines as Andrea, while Lejaun Sheppard is the wonderful antagonist Papa Ge, and keep an eye out for some cracking dance moves from Antoine Murray in the ensemble.  Ola Ince has done a remarkable job, making this feel like a musical you would want to see and listen to over and over again.”

(c)Marc Brenner

WhatsOnStage: **** “In truth, isn’t a production that particularly engages with its outdoor setting (except for one astonishing sequence near the end courtesy of sound designer Nick Lidster where all the contradictory voices in Ti-Moune’s tormented mind seem to be coming from every angle of the theatre) but it certainly engages with the heart, the tear ducts and the hairs on the back of your neck.”

London Theatre1: **** “Gabrielle Brooks as Ti Moune has a splendid singing voice – an utter delight to listen to. The musical numbers are excellent, driving the story forward and allowing the production to showcase some very beautiful harmonies. It’s difficult to suspend disbelief to the point where you feel you’ve escaped to the Caribbean for an hour and a half when you’re actually sat in an open-air theatre in springtime Britain. That doesn’t stop this production from being an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.”

West End Best Friend: *** “Despite the links with The Little Mermaid, Regent’s Park Theatre’s Once On This Island should not be seen as a fairytale. Ola Ince’s direction heightens the prejudices in this story which is important in giving this story a new intensity. However, the imbalance between issue and fairytale leaves this production feeling a little less satisfying.”

iNews: *** “This is a confident if uneven opening production and the summer promises many more alfresco cultural treats.”

(c)Marc Brenner

The Stage: *** “Sun-drenched atmosphere and stunning singing struggle to lend substance to this flimsy musical.”

Time Out: *** “There are some stupendous singing voices in the mix: Gabrielle Brooks gives the role of Ti Moune real heart and guts, while Anelisa Lamola’s powerhouse vocals as the goddess Asaka add a welcome fire to the chilly May night. But they never really quite felt like characters, or certainly not nuanced ones. You don’t have to write it off as problematic to find it essentially a bit trite. But the score is glorious, and the talent on display here is undeniable.”

London *** “The band give us a vibrant rendering of the calypso, soca and reggae-packed score, although sound levels (and some thick French accents) mean a good chunk of the lyrics are lost. So, a slightly uneven opening to the Park’s 2023 summer season, moodier in both tone and weather than might be expected, but it’s still well worth a trip to this thought-provoking island.”

Culture Whisper: *** “Still, Ahrens’ and Flaherty’s songs ensure the show remains up-beat for the most part. The staccato number ‘Some Say’ captures the superstitions of the island, its words thwacking every beat persuasively. Natasha Magigi singing ‘Mama Will Provide’ as Euralie is another zealous highlight. A percussion-heavy band evokes the rhythmic music of the island, while twinkly sound effects lend the show its fairy tale feel.”

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