Monday 8 August 2022

South Pacific - Review

Sadler's Wells, London


Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Directed by Daniel Evans

Julian Ovenden and Gina Beck

Transferring from its acclaimed revival at Chichester last year and returning to the London stage a decade after the Barbican last staged it in 2011, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific has opened for a month’s glorious residency at Sadler’s Wells. 

Daniel Evans has retained his lead performers from a year ago, with the chemistry between Julian Ovenden’s Emil de Becque and Gina Beck’s Ensign Nellie Forbush still vibrant and vocally stunning. Likewise, the love that grows between Lt Joe Cable (Rob Houchen) and the Polynesian Liat (Sera Maehara) is equally well defined. Of course, what sets this show apart is the United States’ racist culture that Rodgers and Hammerstein sought to challenge in their musical adaptation of James A. Michener’s original story.

75 years on from when the show premiered on Broadway many will find its handling of the racism of America’s Southerners and WASPS, problematic. Equally, the comparative youthfulness of Liat’s character does not stand up to close scrutiny in the post-MeToo era of the 21st century. It is however important that from a cultural perspective, the show should be recognised as a wonderfully curated museum piece. It was written for its time and should be enjoyed in that context.

Musically this production of the show is as wonderful as it was by the seaside last year! The songs are classics and to hear them sung, in a venue as acoustically fine as Sadler’s Wells and by voices such as these is a delight. The surprisingly powerful and unexpected melancholy that Joanna Ampil’s Bloody Mary brings to Happy Talk is one of the production’s more haunting highlights.  Another notable performance comes from Douggie McMeekin as the loveable Luther Billis, providing excellently timed comic relief.

Peter McKintosh’s set, paired with Howard Harrison’s lighting, are incredibly imaginative and make you feel as though you are right there on a sunny Pacific island. This alone is worth the visit to Sadler’s Wells as well as to regale in the show’s beautiful music and dance. It really will be some enchanted evening.

Runs until August 28th
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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