South Pacific (2022), Festival Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
South Pacific -  A Chichester Festival Theatre Production
Show details
A Chichester Festival Theatre Production (by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd on behalf of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organisation).
Richard Rodgers (music), Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics / book), Joshua Logan (book) (adapted from “Tales of the South Pacific” by James A Michener), Daniel Evans (director), Peter McKintosh (set and costume director), Ann Yee (choreographer and movement director), John Laird (musical director), Nigel Lilley (musical supervisor), David Cullen (orchestrator), Howard Harrison (lighting designer), Paul Groothuis (sound designer), Gillian Tan (video designer), Theo Jamieson (additional arrangements / orchestration), Bobby Brook (associate director), Michela Meazza (associate choreographer), Matthew Samer (associate musical director).
Julian Ovenden (Emile de Becque), Gina Beck (Ensign Nellie Forbush), Joanna Ampil (Bloody Mary), Rob Houchen (Lt Joseph Cable), Douggie McMeekin (Luther Billis), Sera Maehara (Liat), David Birrell (Captain George William Brackett, Stephen John Davis (Commander William Harbison), Charlie Waddell (Professor / assistant dance captain), Antoine Murray-Straughan (Stewpot), Rachel Jayne Picar (lead nurse / Bobby McCaffrey), Iroy Abesamis (Marcel / Seabee Juanito Edora), Trézel Sergeant (Henri / Delroy Brown), Kate Playdon (Ensign Dina Murphy), Annabel Edwards (Ensign Cora MacRae), Ellie Jane Grant (Ensign Janet McGregor), Charlotte Scott (LT J G Bessie May Sue Yaeger), Eleanor Wainwright (Ensign Francine Miller), Feline Andersson (Ensign Pamela Johnson), Matthew Maddison (Yeoman Herbert Quale, Pierce Rogan (Seabee Eugene O’Brien / Lt Buzz Adams), Josh Kiernan (Sergeant Hassinger / Seabee Andrew Lanes), George Renshaw (Seabee Charlie “Larky” Johnson), James Wilkinson-Jones (Shore patrolman / Seabee Billy Bolam), Leslie Garcia Bowman (Seabee John “Fergie” Ferguson), Olly Christopher (Sergeant Johnson / Seabee Thomas Smith), Ryan Pidgen (Seabee Marco Messina / onstage swing), Charlotte Coggin (Ensign Mary Grace Mahoney / onstage swing / dance captain), Nikhil Sing Rai (Seabee Hari Williams / onstage swing), Jerome (George Ray Pang / Junior Thompson-Wunna, Thomas Bilsland), Ngana (Lilou Domagala, Sigrid Szeto-Sandberg / Skye Theeng). Orchestra.
Running time

The middle of the Pacific Ocean is far away from home for most people.  Islands shrouded in cloud and mystery, another world with a siren call for fugitives or perhaps those running to see a life outside.

Trouble is looming in paradise as the Japanese forces expand and occupy the Pacific Islands during World War II.

Ensign Nellie Forbush has no idea that people lived like this, she is a hick from the sticks, Little Rock where her mother views her as Arkansas’s answer to Florence Nightingale. It’s a culture shock shared with many of the Marines and Seabees (Construction Battalions {CB’s}) who suddenly descend on the lush isles.

Nellie a cockeyed optimist, as corny as Kansas in August, as normal as blueberry pie, is swept off her feet by the lifestyle of cultured Frenchman Emile de Becque, as different as different can be. Having met him one enchanted evening she already thinks he is wonderful guy. But he has a shadowy past that both she and the American military need to come to terms with. The outcome and his work with the young Lieutenant Cable might or might not turn the tide of war but is sure to be dangerous.

Also causing ripples is marginalised island resident Bloody Mary, causing economic mayhem by pulling locals aways from their normal work to make grass skirts and tourist tat. She weaves exotic stories about off-limits Bali Ha’i, “your special island”, home to ritual and the one thing the male forces don’t have – dames!

The story sees the characters at war with the themes of romance, obligation, and prejudice.  While not every part feels fully fleshed out or emotionally engaged the result is ravishing.

Of course, all the crowd-pleasing songs (like 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) are there and are carried off with musical flair.  “Happy Talk” is given a little desperate and ominous quality which adds greatly. For the shows launch in 1949 “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” was progressive and comes at a point that now provokes an audible intake of breath.

This production proves that with careful handling not only can it age well it can also feel fresh and relevant. It is surprisingly perceptive on several fronts; how American home comforts changed the aspirations of local peoples; the racial tensions and culture shock on the segregated forces, not to mention centuries of colonialism.

It’s good looking too. Set within a stark corrugated iron hanger, the rear in the ragged shape of a silhouetted volcanic island, sometimes washed with evocative projected palm trees and colour.  The action turns effortlessly (and it really does revolve) centre stage where the large and strong cast, with the leads delivering charming performances, all assisted by a great orchestra, provide a spectacular production.

If you are looking for an escape it might be your own special island.


Show Times: 25 to 29 October 2022 at 7.30pm. 27 and 29 additional matinee at 2.30pm.

Tickets: £28.50 to £52.50 (discounts available).