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Theatre review: South Pacific 
22nd-Aug-2011 11:24 pm
tragicomedavatar
Disclaimer: This review is of the final preview performance, South Pacific lets the critics in tomorrow night. This is Bartlett Sher's Lincoln Centre production which has arrived in London with much fanfare and brought New York-style prices with it (well, almost; top seats in the £80s, but if you're familiar with the Barbican Theatre you'll know the cheaper [£20] Gallery seats still give a great view and that's where we were; I went with my sister and her flatmate.) Set over a couple of islands during WWII where the US army and navy aren't seeing that much action and so are obsessing over the lack of women (despite the fact that there seem to be nearly as many nurses as soldiers.) One of these nurses is Nellie, (Samantha Womack - pfft, Womack? She'll always be Samantha J. Anus to me) who is being romanced, if that's the word, by French landowner and occasional murderer Emile de Becque (Paulo Szot.) Not being familiar with the story I assumed this was one of those bad matches at the start of the musical before the heroine finds her real love but no, this is the main couple. Which is a problem since they barely seem to be aware of each other's performances, let alone have any chemistry. Penny and Amy put the blame squarely on Szot and his lack of charisma but I think both have to take their share: When Szot sings "Some Enchanted Evening" to her for the first time (the first of roughly three hundred times; by the end we were sniggering every time it got reprised) Womack has her back turned to him in what I can only assume is meant to be a wistful gaze into the distance, but is in fact a completely blank expression. If she'd been picking her arse at the time it would only have completed the picture.

The (also ridiculously overpriced - £6! If you're going to bring Broadway ticket prices to London then how about bringing the free playbills as well?) programme mentions the difficulties of bringing South Pacific back to a modern audience, oddly these difficulties don't seem to include the fact that while most romantic couples have to overcome a particular adversity, this one's a doozy: Namely, the problem they have to face is that she's a big fat hairy racist. Their bland performances don't exactly help you overcome this rather thorny issue. In the equally icky B-plot, Loretta Ables Sayre's strong performance as Bloody Mary helps a bit, but however well she sings "Happy Talk," whenever I hear that song I'll now know it's about a woman trying to whore out her underaged daughter (Elizabeth Chong) to the doomed Lt Cable (Daniel Koek.)

At least there's plenty of good tunes, and some of them don't even get repeated so many times you want to kill. Alex Ferns doesn't get much chance to bring his wheeler-dealer Billis to life but he's surrounded by a chorus of fit sailors in open shirts which helps give those scenes something to look at and seems to have something for everyone - Penny picked out Dominic Smith, Amy liked Eddie Elliott and I kept my eye on Adam Pritchard, who I thought I'd seen before and so I had. He's much more buff now and gets his arse out, so there we are. Penny and Amy did enjoy the show but strongly agreed it should have been shorter - maybe seven or eight fewer renditions of "Some Enchanted Evening" would have done the trick. Ultimately I found it rather dull and ballad-heavy, the chorus of fit men are missed when they're not there for their energy as much as their pecs. It's not a disaster but it's hard to pretend it's worth the hype or the price.

South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, based on Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener is booking until the 1st of October at the Barbican Theatre, prior to a national tour.
Comments 
23rd-Aug-2011 06:44 am (UTC)
Bummer. The film is one of my favourite musicals; maybe it needs 1950s utter lack of irony, to succeed?
23rd-Aug-2011 08:43 am (UTC)
Maybe; I seem to be having a lot of trouble with musicals from that era lately. How To Succeed with its casual misogyny, The Roar of the Greasepaint with a character called "the negro" and now this. I think maybe it's long enough ago that attitudes were spectacularly different, but not long enough ago that you can just see it in a completely detached way as an alien part of history.

It's a weird one because on the one hand you're getting a real "racism is bad" vibe from most of the characters in the show but on the other Nellie doesn't have to repent for her racism, she just thinks Emile is going to die and decides it doesn't matter about his ex. Also, she's fine about him having a couple of black kids, she just doesn't like that their mother was black, which makes me think she needs to go back to nursing school, she obviously missed a couple of rather basic lessons.
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