Theatre Review - Once On This Island

Rosa Guy’s 1985 novel My Love, My Love is an imaginative retelling of The Little Mermaid, transporting Hans Christen Anderson’s fairy tale to the Caribbean.

In this musical adaptation set in Haiti, book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, a group of islanders revisit the myth of Ti Moune to comfort a small girl in the midst of a storm. The tale celebrates the power of love and storytelling, and explores issues of race, colonialism and class.

Once On This Island follows the journey of orphaned peasant girl Ti Moune (Gabrielle Brooks). When she falls for Daniel (Stephenson Ardern-Sodje), the wealthy son of the aristocratic family, she discovers the hierarchy of skin colour and class prejudice.

Ti Moune is raised by a loving older couple, Tonton Julian (Chris Jarman) and Mam Euralie (Natasha Magigi). As she is blossoming into adulthood, she finds an unconscious and bloodied young man who has been in a car accident. She nurses Daniel back to health using traditional medicines, even offering her life to Papa Ge (Lejaun Sheppard), a resplendent demon of death, in exchange for his.

After Daniel’s family return him to their privileged world, Ti Moune follows her beloved to the city. She is determined to persuade Daniel that they belong together. They enjoy a passionate affair, but Daniel is already engaged to Andrea (Courtney-Mae Briggs).

Ti Moune is frustratingly passive and being sanctified as a tree hardly makes up for being betrayed by her “prince”. We end up pitying her and despising Daniel for his weakness.

Nevertheless, there’s much to admire in Ola Ince’s exuberant production. The performances, live music and Kenrick “H2O” Sandy’s choreography are terrific and Melissa Simon-Hartman’s sumptuous costumes are a delight. Brooks dazzles and the outdoor setting adds another layer of magic.

To June 10

Originally published by Camden New Journal