Top comics, a 'Caribbean Little Mermaid' with Voodoo gods, and a rewrite of Robin Hood all feature in the Regent's Park summer season.

There's a wealth of children's theatre, with Sherwood Forest conjured in the Royal Park's open air theatre in a thrilling new take on the legend, alongside Shakespeare's The Tempest reimagined for ages six and over, and an adaptation of Ben Okri's Every Leaf A Hallelujah for ages four and up.

Also on the bill are the interactive giant puppets of Dinosaur World Live, film screenings by Luna Cinema, and stand-up from Tim Key, Sarah Pascoe and Bridget Christie.

The venue continues its award-winning repuation for staging musicals, with a revival of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's La Cage Aux Folles, and cult Broadway show Once On This Island.

Billed as a 'Caribbean Little Mermaid', it opens the 2023 season and tells the dark fairytale of peasant girl Ti Moune, whose love for rich boy Daniel falls foul of racial prejudice. On an island divided between Black peasants, and rich 'grand hommes' descended from French planters and their slaves, she makes a deal with the Voodoo gods to save his life.

With music by Stephen Flaherty, and words by Lynn Ahrends, (Anastacia, Ragtime) it won the best new musical Olivier in 1995, and a Tony for best revival in 2017 - with a reported Disney film adaptation in the works.

Ham & High: Ola Ince directs Once On This IslandOla Ince directs Once On This Island (Image: Marc Brenner)

Director Ola Ince, who previously worked on Porgy and Bess at the Open Air Theatre, says it's one of "very few musicals" which foreground a Black story, and deals head on with colonialism and colourism.

"On an island divided by complexion, an orphan girl breaks the taboo around colourism and falls in love outside her caste system. The big question is can love conquer all?" she says.

Ham & High: Gabrielle Brooks in rehearsal as Ti Moune in Once on This Island at Regent's Park Open Air TheatreGabrielle Brooks in rehearsal as Ti Moune in Once on This Island at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)

"Musical theatre lovers know this show really well, it's been done a lot in America, but not so much over here. The music is incredible, but quite contradictory to the subject matter. It sounds so pretty and light, but the story is raw, dark and upsetting.

"When I first heard it I was jarred by the heavy-hitting lyrics, and the lightness of the melody. I thought 'Why do they sound so happy?' But the beauty of musical theatre is you can be transported somewhere really quickly, and the audience is open to it."

Despite being rich, Daniel is also a victim of "the things we put on each other in society," says Ince.

Ham & High: Stephenson Ardern-Sodje as Daniel in Once Upon An IslandStephenson Ardern-Sodje as Daniel in Once Upon An Island (Image: Marc Brenner)

"Brought up to believe he is part of a superior race because of his French ancestry, he hates a big part of himself - his West African ancestry. He is bound by culture and tradition and we see him struggle to be allowed to break free from that."

If the space feels "really magical," it's ripe for a story that features magic realism and Voodoo gods who are called to answer Ti Moune's prayer to let her escape her village and fall in love, but decide to test her. Ince has consulted a specialist in Voodoo - a religion practiced in Haiti which is a hybrid of French Catholicism and the religious rituals of enslaved people from Africa.

"Voodoo has been demonised with this Halloween idea of dark arts as opposed to a living religion that gives people comfort or strength," says Ince.

"I wanted to unpick that, and consult a specialist to make sure our material isn't offensive.

Ham & High: Ashley Samuels as Voodoo God Agwe in Once On This IslandAshley Samuels as Voodoo God Agwe in Once On This Island (Image: Marc Brenner)

"I'm trying to be mindful that for Haiti, this is not forgotten history, and careful that we are not demonising the island. It's a story about love, forgiveness and moving forward, how to get past the pain and trauma that's been inflicted. It has an amazing mix of beautiful songs, epic ideas, a dark and troubling history, and magic realism."

Praising her "incredibly talented cast," who sing "like a choir of angels," Ince says staging a show in the open air requires careful thought.

"The show begins in sunlight when the audience's attention can be drawn to a pigeon or someone fiddling about, we have to focus their attention with spotlights, but as we go through evening, it gets darker and we're able to transform the space.

"Luckily this show requires an epic emotional performance style to sing these big ideas and make them soar."

Regent's Park Open Air Season starts on May 10 and runs until September 3. Further season details at