LIPA graduate Gabrielle Brooks is to star in a new production of Once on This Island at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Gabrielle (Acting, 2011) has been cast as central character Ti Moune in the musical that opens in May.
We caught up with Gabrielle to discuss the new role, her critically acclaimed portrayal of Rita Marley in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical and her work as co-founder of Mawa Theatre, the UK’s first all Black, all female Shakespeare Company representing Women of the African diaspora.
How did you feel when you found out you’d got the role of Ti Moune in Once on This Island?
At the time I wasn’t able to process. I was in a whirlwind of auditions and self-tapes and so caught up in deadlines that I didn’t have time to honour and enjoy the win until the news was announced months later at The Whatsonstage awards! Such a cool and unique experience!
It’s very surreal and lovely to be doing this particular show. I remember needing to choose material for an assessment at LIPA and being truly lost until I stumbled across a duet from Once on This Island.
What excites you most about this production?
I am a bit of a history nerd so as soon as Ola Ince (Director) told me we would honour the Haitian roots of the story I was excited. I’m loving digging into the culture and legacy of the country.
I’m really looking forward to hearing and singing the music. My parents are from the Caribbean, so doing a show featuring calypso style music is pure joy for me.
I also think people underestimate the confronting themes of the show and am really open to telling a story about colonialism and colourism through this medium. It’s not often you are able to tell a story like this via Musical Theatre. I think the show could be very special.
What challenges does performing in the open air present?
I love working at Regent’s Park. It’s honestly amazing! I can imagine a space like that isn’t for every actor but I kind of love that it feels so unpredictable. There are so many possible distractions, I kind of find it hilarious and fun. A bird could land on the set, it could start raining and you just can’t ignore it. But why should you? It’s really happening! I love that!
Regent’s Park also has their own dedicated voice specialist which is so necessary and helpful.
Oh, and hay fever is a bugger if you’re a sufferer.
This production follows your success with Get up, Stand up! for which you were nominated for an Olivier. What was your most memorable experience of the show and what are you most proud of?
That show afforded me some of the most incredible experiences of my career. Of course, being nominated for an Olivier was insane. Even being asked about it still blows my mind.
Performing with Bob Marley’s family in the audience was definitely up there for me. How surreal.
I’m really proud of what we created actually. The show was beautiful. Often the audiences would remind me of experiences I would have as a child in church. A truly special community experience.
I remember on Jamaican Independence Day seeing a sea of Jamaican flags and welling up in the curtain call. You don’t see that stuff in the West End. I felt so seen.
Mawa Theatre Company has just staged a sell-out Shakespeare Monologue Slam at The Globe Theatre, how was that?
Mawa Theatre Company makes me smile from ear to ear just talking about it. If someone told me at LIPA, I’d be a producer I couldn’t have imagined it for a second - but affording Black women the opportunity to perform at The Globe in front of an industry panel and their peers is one of the most beautiful experiences of my career.
Once on This Island opens at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre on 10 May and you can find out more about Mawa Theatre here.
Photography by Dujonna Gift.