There is nothin’ like a dame. Nothing in this world.

Well, there is … actually. Nothing like having women regarded as more than aesthetic creatures, which is a fault of the original script. But I can’t be too hard on Rodgers and Hammerstein and the sexism in South Pacific as it was ground-breaking on opening more than 70 years ago for another reason of equality. 

South Pacific tells the story of the US Navy stationed on a Pacific Island during World War II. The main plot focuses on the romance between an American nurse and a French plantation owner with the subplot of a US Marine’s flirtations with a Tonkinese girl. The topic of racial prejudice is included in both, way ahead of its time and thankfully, addressed.

South Pacific — New Alexander Theatre — September 30 2022

The term iconic is not one I use often but the fact that most of the numbers are instantly recognisable says how big this musical is. A Cockeyed Optimist, Some Enchanted Evening, There is Nothin’ Like a Dame, Bali Ha’i, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy, Younger Than Springtime and not forgetting Happy Talk. That’s eight straight off that I knew before I saw it for the first time a few years ago. Admitted, the 70-year-old script and score is dated but this production induced a new freshness with a stark but simple backdrop of corrugated panelling. Here shadows were projected with basic scenery wheeled on and off when necessary. It worked. Good use was also made of a rotating stage, especially in numbers, giving two different perspectives.

South Pacific — New Alexander Theatre — September 30 2022

Julian Ovenden gave a superb performance as a somewhat younger Emile than I have seen in the past and was well matched with Gina Beck (Nellie Forbush), equally excellent, particularly in vocal numbers.

It was nice in this production to see the character of Bloody Mary less of a stereotype in grass skirts, but quirky instead with individuality. Superb by Joanna Ampil. Also strong was Rob Houchen in the role of Lt Cable with an equally stong voice as were all the principals. Then there was Luther Billis, played wonderfully by Douggie McMeekin, giving a huge helping of comic relief to the show.

Supporting well was Sera Maehara (Liat) who excelled in individual and company dance, plus David Birrell (Capt. Brackett) and Stephen John Davis (Cmdr. Harbison) who made an amusing double act at times.

In this production, choreography was by Ann Yee with musical direction from Jon Laird. The director was Daniel Evans.

One thing to note, particularly for amateur societies thinking of doing this show when available, the audience seemed mostly 70+. Even so, the auditorium was still full, showing there is life in South Pacific yet.

The show is still touring in the next few weeks at Edinburgh, Canterbury and Leeds. Well worth an evening out.

South Pacific — New Alexander Theatre — September 30 2022


Antony N Britt