book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joseph Logan lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II music by Richard Rodgers.

Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 1 October 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 10 Sept 2.30pm.
Captioned 6 Sept.
TICKETS: 0844 243 0785.

then tour to 12 May 2012.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 August.

The waves start small but it ends-up a sceptically enchanted evening.
What a difference an act can make. At the interval of Bartlett Sher’s Lincoln Center South Pacific – largely recast – you could want to wash the whole thing out of your hair.

The piece opens unpromisingly with a scene between expat Frenchman Emile and contrasting American nurse Nellie on an island during the hard-fought South Pacific campaign of 1942/3. We’ve never seen them before, so a number of numbers slip insignificantly by; including ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. Then the navy arrives with clunky choreography. Nurses are seen jogging and entertaining, but never nursing; there’s not a wound in sight.

Sher avoids Broadway emotion. The base recalls the Korean army hospital in Robert Altman’s MASH. The cool orchestrations can work, but damp-down emotion. Designer Michael Yeargan makes Bali Ha’i a volcanic eruption, looming mistily, but its local representative Blood Mary is a trotting, plotting, charisma-free Mother Courage.

Samantha Womack’s Nellie is sympathetically pretty but so lightweight her racism seems inconsequential. Paulo Szot (one of two Emiles) sings powerfully, consistent even in soft high notes, but shows little characterisation. Only Daniel Koek’s newly-arrived Lieutenant and the non-musical war-ops planning succeed.

After the interval, transformation. The choreography improves, but is anyway part of the amateur forces’ Follies, Szot’s Emile acquires dramatic depth, making his other solo the show’s irresistible climax. Mary’s quest to marry her daughter, given a vulnerable otherness in Elizabeth Chong’s dance, has sympathetic urgency, while Seabee Luther’s desire to visit Bali Ha’i for trade indicates opportunistic exploitation of local resources.

And the South Pacific itself comes to the fore. A map of its island-complex gives the act’s secret mission dramatic reality, while Sher’s cool style keeps Nellie’s development unsentimental, and a final instrumental phrase of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ is stronger than the whole number had been.

The production explores South Pacific’s moral probing of the recent war. The delayed, muted “Yes” to the idea Japanese victory would make the world worse reflects Cable’s anger at his own racism and Nellie’s acceptance of Emile’s past marriage to a Polynesian. There’s no point your country winning if its own values aren’t right.

Ngana: Tia Hunte/Eloise Frederick-Hargrave/Juenelle Muge/Alice-Lily Nnene.
Jerome: Jaydn Hunte/Alex Amadasun/Cedric Amamoo/Kyle Ndukuba.
Henry: Eddie Elliott.
Nellie Forbush: Samantha Womack.
Emile De Becque: Paulo Szot (to 27 Aug; 22 Sept-1 Oct)/Jason Howard (29 Aug-21 Sept).
Seabees/Sailors/Marines: James Austen-Murray, Chris Bennett, Lawrence Carmichael, Stephen John Davis, Nyron Levy, Dean Maynard, Adam Pritchard, Dominic Smith, Mikel Sylvanus, Danny Whitehead, Nick Wyschna.
Bloody Mary: Loretta Ables Sayre.
Bloody Mary’s Assistant: Ameerah Falzon Ojo,/Elise Zavou/Dejuan Mobcrieffe-Barnett/Camara McKenzie.
Luther Billis: Alex Ferns.
Professor: Luke Kempner.
Stewpot: Cameron Jack.
Head Nurse: Jacqueline Tate.
Dinah: Mairi Cowieson.
Nurses: Jill Armour, Carly Anderson, Maria Lawson, Bleu Woodward.
Lt Joseph Cable: Daniel Koek.
Commander Harbison: Dominic Taylor.
Captain Brackett: Nigel Williams.
Quale: Danny Whitehead.
Liat: Elizabeth Chong.
Adams: Nick Wyschna.
Shore Patrolman: Dean Maynard.
Swings: Lisa Dent, Matthew Crowe, Chris Jenkins.

Director: Bartlett Sher.
Designer: Michael Yeargan.
Lighting: Donald Holder.
Sound: Scott Lehrer.
Musical Staging; Christopher Gattelli.
Musical Director: Jae Alexander.
Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett.
Dance/Incidental musical arrangements: Trude Rittmann.
Musical Supervisor: Ted Sperling.
Costume: Catherine Zuber.
Wig designer: Richard Mawbey.
Associate designer: Mikiko Suzuki Macadams.
Associate lighting: Nathaniel Seekins.
Associate sound: John Owens.
Associate choreographer: Joe Langworth.
Associate wigs: Andrea Cracknell.

2011-08-24 14:02:08

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