Monday, April 22

South Pacific – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Chichester Festival Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of South Pacific has found a temporary home in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre during its 2022 tour. Written by the great Rodgers and Hammerstein and directed by Chichester’s artistic director, Daniel Evans, this production keeps the classic charm of the golden age while also looking visually stunning.

South Pacific, as the name suggests, is set on a South Pacific island during the Second World War, showing the struggles of the army and marines as well as the inhabitants of the island. Arguably the strongest of performers is Julian Ovenden, who plays the role of Emile de Becque, the show’s leading man. Ovenden commands the audience’s attention whenever he is on stage, allowing his resonant voice to hit every part of the auditorium.

Beside him, in the role of Ensign Nellie Forbush, is Gina Beck. Beck and Ovenden’s chemistry is electric, with every shared scene being engaging and real. However, while Beck clearly has a strong voice and great skill, she didn’t quite hit the mark for me vocally. I’m not sure if she was perhaps under the weather, having had to cough a few times during the production, but for me, as a leading female, I feel her voice should have been stronger. Despite this, her ability to portray emotion through song was a true masterclass in acting.

In addition, this production has one of the strongest ensembles I’ve ever seen. All of the performers work off of each other to such a high level, picking up every beat. The harmonies during chorus numbers were simply perfection with each person putting one hundred percent into everything they did on stage.

Gina Beck (centre, as Nellie) & members of the company in Chichester Festival Theatre’s SOUTH PACIFIC © Johan Persson

When the show started, I was very excited to see the use of a revolve. I don’t know what it is, but a revolve creates a lot of excitement in my theatre geek mind. But then they used it again, and again, and again. In all honesty, I lost count of how many times it was used and the love I had started to fade. For me, a revolve is special and I felt at times Evans was lazy with his use of it. There could have been some more intricate movement or direction used at points but instead, there was the revolve.

This was similar to some of the choreography, which was done by Ann Yee. While there was some fantastic, well-thought-out movement – particularly during the number There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame – at various points, the company were directed to walk around in the circle while an actor stood in the middle, entrapped. I won’t deny that it is an effective piece of imagery but, again, it quickly lost its impact with the number of times it was used.

Tech-wise, South Pacific is beautiful thanks to the lightning design of Howard Harrison, complimented by the set from Peter McKintosh. A stand-out area of focus for me was the wooden paneling at the back of the stage which, while fitting the ‘wooden aesthetic’ of the set, also served as a makeshift cyclorama on which light and projection could be put onto. This added a lovely level of vibrance to the stage, which contrasted the otherwise dull, brownish-grey wood.

South Pacific is certainly worth a watch. It truly is a musical of the golden age which attempts to somewhat modernize itself with the updated technology of the theatre. However, perhaps the focus should be on variety in regard to directorial decisions or this production could quickly become stale.

Playing until 29th October,

Reviewer: Dylan Mooney

Reviewed: 25th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★