Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener
Directed by Daniel Evans
Tuesday 18th October – Saturday 22nd October
Like a siren call, the South Pacific island of Bali Ha’i is calling you down to the Theatre Royal to catch this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Direct from the West End, it really is a visual and aural delight, from start to finish.
Set on an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean during World War II, the plot primarily centres on a young American nurse, Ensign Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck), who falls in love with a middle-aged, French expatriate plantation owner, Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden).
Meanwhile, a secondary love story involves the newly arrived Lieutenant Joseph Cable (Rob Houchen), a rich Princeton officer who falls for young local woman Liat (Sera Maehara), after a spot of matchmaking by her mother, Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil). The ensuing narrative shows both love stories beset by racial prejudice leading to somewhat tragic consequences.
Beck and Ovenden as the two main leads have real chemistry which lends their performances added authenticity. Beck makes Nellie perky, sassy, and endearing which renders her subsequent reluctance to accept Emile’s mixed-race children even more unexpected and shocking. Ovenden is almost unrecognisable from perhaps his best-known role as Lady Mary’s paramour, Charles Blake, in Downton Abbey. He brings a playfulness to the gravitas and his singing voice is superb; rich, powerful, and resonant, much like this production.
When it premiered on Broadway in 1949, Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted to send out a strong progressive message about racism. Seventy-three years later, the challenge for any director is to recontextualise that message to show just how important and relevant it still is today. Daniel Evans more than succeeds in doing this.
In my opinion, everything is spot-on. I particularly enjoyed the choreography and movement by Ann Yee. She uses elements of dance trends at the time, in addition to ballet and surprising features, such as the lively use of props in ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa my Hair.’
Moreover, the outstanding ensemble perform the big-ticket numbers with an infectious exuberance. Each one demonstrates commitment in abundance; no mean feat for a cast of thirty plus. I find my eyes traversing the stage and being constantly surprised by the level of detail in every aspect, from the set and costume design by Peter McKintosh to lighting design by Howard Harrison and everything in between.
The two hours and fifty minutes whip by as the audience becomes engrossed in well-known musical standards, such as ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ ‘There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,’ and ‘I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,’ all magnificently played by the orchestra.
‘There are so few days in our life,’ Emile tells us, and I am glad to have spent one of mine watching this glorious production. If you get the opportunity, I can recommend you do the same.
Running Time: 2 hr 50 mins (including 20-min interval)