Musical review – Once on this Island

Aug 5 2012 | By More

★★★★☆    Sensitive

Inverleith Church Hall: Run ends Sat 11 Aug 2012
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is a gentle sensitively to the performances of the Forth Children’s Theatre company in Once On This Island, running at the Inverleith Church Hall until Saturday, enhanced by a tingle of magical realism to the production itself.

The musical tells a story of young doomed love between peasant girl Ti Moune and the son of a rich plantation family, Daniel, on the French Antilles in the Caribbean. She’s a foundling, an orphan saved after a devastating storm. He is the eldest son of a wealthy plantation owner, a direct descendent of the original French settlers and their slaves.

Hayley Scott as Mama Euralie holds Harmony Rose Bremner as Ti Moune. Pic: Mark Gorman

FCT has transformed the hall by adding a high, running gantry round the whole auditorium and creating an amphitheatre of a stage, with small apron surrounded by steps up to the gantry. This helps create an immersive feel as the cast are often above and behind the audience. And when night falls, a glittering star-cloth lights up the walls all around.

The tragic tale occurs on a rain-drenched tropical island. Paradise for the rich plantation owners, the grandes hommes who race their cars around the island without a thought for the peasants who people it. Not so much of a paradise for those impoverished peasants, for whom every tropical rainstorm is a potential tragedy and the gods of rain, earth, death and love are very real and utterly immediate.

It is these gods who drive the story. Rachel Bell is particularly strong as the compassionate Asaka, Mother of the Earth, Maya Stewart is all sparkly-eyed as Erzulie, goddess of love, a menacing Ronan Rafferty is Papa Ge, the demon of death and Gus Harrower is Agwe, god of water.

Ti Moune is their creation, a girl saved on Agwe’s whim, thrown up into the branches of a tree and discovered by an elderly couple, grumbling Mama Euralie (Hayley Scott) and rather more compassionate Tonton Julian (Alex Gordon).

superbly created tableaux

Their finding of diminutive Nandi Sawyers-Hudson as the Little Ti Moune is a superbly created tableaux, set to the lilting calypso of One Small Girl. The ensemble create a forest of leaves from which she is drawn, as the five Storytellers weave the opening of their tale. While Scott and Gordon keep the narrative going, Little Ti Moune is soon all grown up and Sawyers-Hudson is transformed into Harmony Rose Bremner.

The company in Forth Children’s Theatre production of Once On This Island at the Edinburgh Fringe 2012. Pic: Mark Gorman

This is a company is blessed with young performers who can bring out very mature performances. And Harmony Rose Bremner is certainly one of those. As Ti Moune she never stops in her creation of a wide-eyed, innocent young woman –  who falls in love with Daniel when his car crashes one stormy night and is determined to love him, what ever the cost.

Liam Thomson has less to do, and he could maybe let Daniel be even more arrogant, but he certainly helps give the lie to any real comparison with Romeo and Juliet. Here, it is clear from the start, is a relationship in which love might come from both sides, but only Ti Moune will be prepared to break the taboo. He is happy in continuing the kind of relationship his father and father’s father have had with women from a lower class. As he sings in Some Girls: “some girls you love and some girls you marry”.

But although there will surely be tragedy – from it will come triumph and the gods’ cynical game will fall to the light, not the dark.

This is another excellent production from Forth Children’s Theatre, all round. Lighting director Grant Anderson could have been a little less liberal with his lightening flashes and a bit more focussed in his spotting of the peripherals, but his curtain of stars is a real treat.

sizzling hot dance squad

The musicians, under MD Moray Nairn, keep it all lilting along. Choreographer Cameron Dyer has brought out excellent dance numbers – particularly when the whole ensemble is on the small stage – and has a sizzling hot core dance squad to work with. Director Claire Stewart has some beautiful visual effects in the telling while not taking the piece into the darker areas that it potentially contains (the island setting is, after all Haiti, with all that implies).

But ultimately, this is all about the performers. And while there is the odd little wobble, this is a company that likes to stretch is members, and there was nothing which detracted from the whole. A solid, entertaining and thoughtfully created production.

Run ends Saturday 11 August 2012.
Shows daily at 7.30pm (Sat mat at 2.30pm_
Forth Childrens Theatre Website: forthchildrenstheatre

Gus Harrower as Agwe, god of water. Pic: Mark Gorman


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