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Once on this Island

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Olivier award-winning musical Once on this Island - here revived in a co-production with Birmingham Rep and Nottingham Playhouse - is a joyous, if not exactly narratively satisfying affair.

A Caribbean-set play-within-a-play version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, it centres on Ti Moune, a young peasant girl who sets out the win the heart of Grande Homme Daniel Beauxhomme, but who inevitably smacks into the barriers of racism and snobbery.

The story is puppeteered by a collection of gods, from the Demon of Death Papa Ge (played with suitable pantomimic menace by Jo Servi) to the lovable Mother Earth Asaka, a role Sharon D Clarke first played during its award-winning 1994 run and slips back into with ease.

Directed by Hackney Empire associate (and pantomime queen – or should that be dame?) Susie McKenna, this is a welcome revival, even though it proves remarkably thin for a musical that was so lauded first time around.

Flaherty's songs are patchy at best, the only really memorable tunes coming from second act opener “Mama Will Provide” and the climactic “Why We Tell the Story”, while Ahrens' book is at times laughably naïve (the audience rightfully roared when Ti Moune innocently suggested spending a night with Daniel to “heal” him).

However, when performed by a talented cast exhibiting irresistible levels of enjoyment, it seems rather curmudgeonly to pick faults in such trivial matters as plot and dialogue (not that I could hear much of it through the distorted amplification system).

Shyko Amos is a wonderful Ti Moune and Wayne Perrey makes the best of the horribly cheesy Daniel; though they and the rest of the company are utterly upstaged by a nine-year-old girl at the end (Tranae Richards on press night).

It takes a while to get going, but if you're in the right frame of mind, Once on this Island is a fun family night out in what's looking like being a rather miserable summer.


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