Sunday, July 14

South Pacific – Opera House, Manchester

Chichester Festival Theatre has become known for taking on some of the most challenging classics and transforming them into a triumph. Director Daniel Evans’s lively reappraisal of South Pacific is no exception.

On one of Manchester’s hottest days on record the audience was transported to the South Pacific where US troops were occupying a Polynesian island in the WW2 conflict with Japan. 

The opening scene sees nurse Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck) on a coffee date with Emile de Becque (Julian Overden), a middle-aged plantation owner that she recently met at the officer’s club. De Becque is an ultra-suave Frenchman with a murderous past but despite this we see young nurse Forbush failing madly in love with him.

The US troops are kicking their heels while restlessly waiting for the war to reach them, during this time sailor Luther Billis (Douggie McMeekin) runs a makeshift laundry to earn some extra money, but he’s no match for the quick-witted Polynesian Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil) who’s intent to exploit the overseas visitors.

When young Lieutenant Joe Cable (Rob Houchen) is flown to the island on a dangerous reconnaissance mission things start to change for the sailors and for the Lieutenant himself.

Bloody Mary entices the US crew over to Bali Ha’i, the enchanted volcanic island where magical things happen including mystical rituals but most importantly where all the young maidens live. Bloody Mary introduces the Lieutenant Cable to her beautiful daughter Liat (Sera Maehara) and their romance blossoms.

The pacing of the show is slow in places, with some scenes leaving you glancing at your watch, modern musicals move at a faster pace than they did in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s heyday, so you must be mindful of the era it was created in. Nevertheless, there is much joy in this production with slick scene changes and a revolving stage which gives the show plenty of action, and with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s memorable and popular tunes such as ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘There is Nothin’ Like a Dame’, ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’, ‘I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy’, ‘Happy Talk’ and ‘Younger Than Springtime’ makes the show a heart-warming and nostalgic evening.

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

South Pacific was seen as overtly radical when it first opened in 1949 where audiences were surprised to find racism, colonialism, and violent bigotry embedded amongst beautiful music and budding romances. These days we certainly wouldn’t have Nellie Forbush bluntly telling, albeit apologetically, Emile de Bacque that any possibility of a relationship had zero chance on account of Emile being a widower to someone who wasn’t white, or songs such as ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught’ where racism is highlighted.

Daniel Evan’s revival of this classic is beautifully enhanced by Peter McKintosh’s set and costume design, Howard Harrison’s, Paul Groothius’s and Gillian Tan’s lighting, sound and video design. The visual and auditory side of the show is exquisite which is stunningly intensified by David Cullen’s orchestration and Ann Yee’s Choreography.  

The cast is undoubtably full of exceptional voices, but my personal highlights where Julian Ovenden’s rendition of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ which had me captivated throughout and Joanna Amphil’s stunning vocals during ‘Bali Ha’i and ‘Happy Talk’.

Sera Maehara had me mesmerized with her presence and graceful elegance during her dance scenes, she was an alluring and fascinating seductress. 

Daniel Evans has once again proven himself to be a Master of Musical theatre and a real asset to Chichester Festival Theatre, making this production an enchanted evening indeed.

Well done to all involved for a wholesome and thoroughly enjoyable nostalgic musical for the 1940’s, with many modern effects and staging. “An enchanted evening indeed”

South Pacific continues in Manchester until 23rd July before transferring to London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Reviewer: Katie Leicester

Reviewed: 19th July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★