South Pacific – Review – York Theatre Royal
South Pacific – Review
York Theatre Royal, March 2015
by Jen Grimble
Since its Broadway debut in 1949, South Pacific has been entertaining theatre-goers on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, almost 70-years later, York Light presents a reworking of the Tony Award winning musical. But can this enduring tale secure modern fans?
The original production, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific, is composed by the pioneers of golden-age theatre, Rodgers and Hammerstein. The pair, who brought us The King and I, combine several of the books’ interlocking stories to create an upbeat show. It integrates key social issues, making it economically viable and morally explicit.
This notion continues with York Light, in their contemporary but sympathetic adaptation. We are transported to a military camp on a remote pacific island during World War I. The set is artistic but simple. It places the audience in paradise, with just the positioning of palms, the lighting of a beautiful moon and the soft sounds of lapping waves.
“Warmth and laughter”
This South Pacific features a complimentary ensemble cast. There are performers of all ages. Focus is on two main love stories. The first, of American nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush (Rachael Wilkinson), and expat Frenchman, Emile de Becque (Richard Blackburn). Their illegitimate Polynesian children (played gorgeously in this performance by Daisy Wallace and Reuben Lalley) could end their affair. The second is the blossoming romance between Lieutenant Joseph Cable (Scott Goncalves/Christian Mortimer) and Tonkinese islander, Liat (Beth Stevens).
Struggling with racial prejudices and conflicting emotions, Nellie decides to wash-that-man-right-outta-her-hair. The song rings brightly through the theatre while Joseph escapes with Emile on a dangerous mission that could either end their lives, or help the Americans defeat the Japanese.
Woven between these two key stories are moments of joviality. The Thanksgiving Pageant provides a highlight of the production. Luther Billis (Richard Hawley) dances in his coconut bra to ‘Honey Bun’. Likewise, Rosy Rowley’s portrayal of Bloody Mary brings much warmth and laughter to the viewers. While Goncalves as Lieutenant Cable conveys sentimentality in every scene. Richard Blackmore could be the true star here however. His Emile de Becque is a fine, accurate depiction, as his rich French accent flows into his gorgeous harmonies, stealing the lime-light.
This adaptation excels in its moments of slowed-down simplicity. When one character is pondering their emotions through song; or Bloody Mary and Liat are softly swaying to ‘Happy Talk’, it reawakens in the audience a sense of nostalgic pleasure. The score, performed by Philip Redding and his orchestra, combines the catchy aforementioned classics with timeless show-pieces ‘Bali Ha’i’ (sung wonderfully by Rowley), and ‘There’s Nothing Like a Dame’, in which the male cast create a strong vocal chorus.
Redding leads his army of talented musicians to a fitting enactment. It compliments scenes and also establishes the atmosphere of the island itself. The music is what makes this show so effective. Though set during a time of cultural divides and looming violence, this production has a light heart and an iconic musical zest. This by no means undermines the severity, or the authenticity of the history, it is telling.
For a musical that has enthralled post-war audiences for decades, South Pacific proves itself to be a worthy subject for revisiting. It succeeds in securing fans on a contemporary level. Director Martyn Knight gathers a cast of eclectic performers, who plausibly bring to life this timeless war-time story. York Light has created a re-imagined and subtle adaptation that fills the room with unforgettable songs of days-gone-by. It allows both long-time fans and first-time viewers of South Pacific to leave the theatre feeling content.