South Pacific (UK Tour) – Review

South Pacific: Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

15th November 2022

Chichester Festival Theatre’s critically acclaimed, landmark production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific is currently touring the country and is based at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre this week. South Pacific is a powerful love story, set on a South Pacific island during World War II. It features a brilliant cast of over thirty and a full orchestra.

The cast are all excellent with the musical numbers being performed brilliantly. Choreography from Ann Yee is in keeping with the era and is executed well throughout the two hour 40 minute show. The contemporary solo number performed by Sera Maehara was beautiful. Lighting by Howard Harrison is impressive and works with the clever backdrop by Peter Mckintosh which is set to look like corrugated metal. The set pieces are also impressive and whilst the revolve doesn’t actually add much to the overall show it is used well in some numbers.

South Pacific was first performed in 1949 and at the time trying to deal with issues such as racism would have been controversial. Post war musicals were there for entertainment, not to educate people. However, we are not still in the 1940’s and whilst the show has been updated in terms of choreography, use of lighting and improvements in the set/staging unfortunately the direction has kept so faithful to the original that the issue of racism is almost glossed over. We wouldn’t expect the show to be rewritten or have major script changes but the delivery of the lines and characters reactions could have been altered to make more of an impact. As a result, the musical feels very outdated and seeing it through fresh eyes it does nothing tackle the issue of racism. Instead we are left with a fairly slow romantic musical which, at times, is very predictable. Classic musicals certainly draw in audience numbers. Looking around most of the auditorium was filled with audience members of a certain generation. But with a little reworking this could also attract younger audiences and be more hard hitting.

South Pacific features some of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most memorable songs including ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’ and ‘Bali Ha’i’. Julian Ovenden performs ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ excellently and has just the right operatic qualities to fully deliver the song. Gina Beck is fantastic throughout. She is upbeat, lively and engaging and this shows with all her musical numbers particularly the well known song ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’. Rob Houchen makes an excellent Lt Joseph Cable, something audiences have come to expect from this talented performer. Douggie McMeekin really stands out as Luther Billis, adding the comic humour throughout.

Overall South Pacific is certainly well put together. It is performed excellently by all and the show stays true to its roots. But that is also the problem. With a little rewriting this story could be brought into the 21st Century and be a lot more powerful. At times the show lacks pace and unfortunately too much is glossed over for it to be a hit with a newer audience who have come to almost expect shows to be hard hitting and educational. No doubt fans of the original show will marvel at this most recent production, it just feels a little underwhelming with many missed opportunities.

South Pacific is playing at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury until the 19th November. For tickets and information click here.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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