“a joyous and genuine cultural tapestry that Durham Student Theatre has never seen before”

In need of a break from this frigid weather, seeing Sightline’s Once on this Island filled me with such warmth. Directors Brianna Baptiste and Natalie Ho created a joyous and genuine cultural tapestry that Durham Student Theatre has never seen before, telling the story of love bravery and sacrifice with the added complexity of racism and classism. This show reiterates the importance of POC stories and supports a vision of cultural inclusion in a way that I have never seen in Durham Student Theatre.

The curtain opens and the audience is immediately immersed in the beginning of the story, with the use of warm lighting emulating a fire as the cast is seated in a circle on stage. Chelsea Ting’s set design is simple but incredibly effective and aesthetically appealing, with trees and huts creating a very nice visual onstage as well as a dynamic that the actors use very well.

Baptiste and Ho utilize the talent of the cast members beautifully. The gods, played by Saachi Bajaj, Iliane Ed Dhimine, Adesola Adejobi, and Gienva Bartolome, were truly the heart of the show, particularly Adejobi’s powerful and commanding stage presence as Papa Ge contrasted with Bartolme’s magical voice and ethereal characterization of Erzulie, creating such a great dynamic that supportsthe overall themes of the production. Credit must be given to Musical Director, Josh Mann, with the harmonies throughout the show being spectacular, especially in the duets between couples throughout the show.

In addition to the previously mentioned cast members, Aoife Galvin as Mama Euralie was quite a standout, with the perfect maternal qualities in her acting as well as having one of the most gorgeous and entrancing voices I have ever heard in DST, with her technique and tone never missing the mark. Alongside Marco Morgan Castro as Tonton, the two had delightful chemistry and their voices were perfectly matched together.

Rue Mugabe, as Ti Moune was a marvel, with her acting perfect for the character as she consistently portrayed her wide-eyed innocence and hopeful nature throughout the show. In addition to her acting, the sweet tone of her voice was a joy to listen to although the lack of belting and articulation made it hard to understand her in some songs. Her chemistry with Joshua Schlichting as Daniel was electric, with Schlichting’s portrayal of Daniel perfectly capturing the complexities of the character.

One of the most special aspects of the show was the authenticity of the movement. Baptiste and Ho create such an intentional visual through blocking in each scene that paints such a clear picture of the story. Chavi Chung’s choreography took clear inspiration from traditional forms of West Indie dance such as Gwoka and Martinique, which really added so much life to the production as a whole. Ti Moune’s dance in Act 2 truly wowed the audience, with Mugabe dancing with such grace and power.

In terms of tech, there was a bit of an issue with the sound mixing, as often the piano was louder than the rest of the band and the cast, causing the occasional off-note and particularly Mugabe’s mic not being loud enough to hear her at some points throughout the show. However, the lighting was perfectly crafted for each part of the story and almost created a feeling as though you were turning the pages of a book to see a new drawing on each page.

Overall, Sightline’s Once on this Island is a must see and as said in the production, ‘our lives become the stories we weave’ giving me tremendous amounts of hope that the impact of this story and production will continue to push all theatre companies in DST to celebrate diversity and inclusion as this show does so wonderfully.

By Rhyen Hunt

Once on this Island is performing at the Assembly Rooms theatre until the 11th March

Photo Credits: Sightline