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‘Once On This Island’ musical tackles pertinent social issues

Bathandwa Diniso as Ti Moune in “Once On This Island”. Picture: Kwame Bright

Bathandwa Diniso as Ti Moune in “Once On This Island”. Picture: Kwame Bright

Published Jul 7, 2022


Theatre lovers are in for a treat as the Tony award-winning musical “Once On This Island” plays out at the Baxter Flipside from July 8 until July 16.

“Once On This Island” by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is based on a Caribbean interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”.

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Under the musical direction of Nathan Johannisen and Akhona Zizipho Nkinti, the cast of 14 performers will transport the audiences to a magical island “where rivers run deep” and where everyone is “at the mercy of the wind and the sea, praying constantly to the gods”.

Directed and produced by Amanda Bothma, “Once On This Island” follows the journey of Ti Moune, performed by Bathandwa Diniso, a young peasant girl who fearlessly pursues love across racial and class barriers.

The young orphan tragically falls in love with a rich aristocrat, but unbeknownst to her, the pompous gods who preside over the island make a bet with one another about which is stronger: love or death, and the stakes being that of her life.

Speaking to IOL Entertainment, Bothma said South Africans will resonate with the story.

“Once On This Island is an important story that must be told. The themes in the musical speak to things that are happening in our society right now. But it is more than this: this story brings hope.

“It presents the problem and it finds a solution. Ti Moune chooses love and shows how love can break open our society for the better,” Bothma said.

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She added: “’Once On This Island’ promotes not only social cohesion, transformation and the bringing people together but also hope, faith, resilience and love.

“The resilience of the human spirit we see in Ti Moune’s journey, especially in today’s generation, where a lot of things are about instant gratification.

“Ti Moune’s joy is delayed till right at the end. Oh, and love, the fact that love can actually transform society is what resonated with us.”

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The cast of “Once On This Island”. Picture: Kwame Bright

Bothma said that along with her team, which includes Sonwa Sakuba, who is in charge of choreography, they wanted the show to have that “local is lekker” flair.

“We bring the elements of the earth to the audience, we use recycled elements in our decor and props and the most beautiful shweshwe materials in our costumes

“Here and there, we support the script for the South African audience with the usage of our indigenous language, isiXhosa, and in choreography, there is a feel of some African dance moves and movement.”

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The cast of “Once On This Island”. Picture: Kwame Bright

Pieter Taljaard, who plays the role of Armand in the production, said: “The Island is an unexpected jewel in musical theatre as it makes serious comments on pertinent social issues: the effects of colonialism, racism and prejudice of all kinds.

“While exposing these issues it weaves an engaging story through song, movement, dance and acting, true African storytelling.”

Bothma urged patrons to come back to the theatre to experience live performances by some of Mzansi’s talented performers.

“What a long 24 months it has been! Audiences can support by buying tickets and by being part of the conversation and community. More than ever we need to feel community and have these conversations with each other again. That’s why we tell the story.”

“Once On This Island” runs at the Baxter Flipside from July 8 until July 16.Tickets are available at Webtickets from R140.