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South Pacific - Nottingham Review

Rogers and Hammerstein's masterpiece South Pacific is given a stunning new staging under Chichester Festival Theatre's Daniel Evans. This new production could be the best staging the musical has had in its over 70 year history.

Julian Ovenden 'Emile de Becque' and Gina Beck 'Ensign Nellie Forbush'. Photo by Johan Persson

The musical at it heart is a love story set on the Islands of the South Pacific during World War II but at it's core it also tackles themes of racism, misogyny and ageism. We spend Act One falling in love with the delightful Gina Beck as Nellie Forbush only for in the final moments of the half to discover her racial prejudice after discovering Emilie De Becque, played by Julian Ovenden, has children from his late first wife, a Polynesian woman.

Beck and Ovenden make a fantastic central pairing which is completely believable and gives a moving pay off at the end of the piece. Beck is beautiful to watch, her gleaming smile and wonderful vocals are amazing. She carries the difficulty of the role well. Ovenden has the most gorgeous voice and it's stunning every time it's unleashed. His rendition of 'Some Enchanted Evening' is rightly a stand out. Special mention must go to Junior Thompson-Wunna as Jerome and Skye Theeng as Ngana for lovely performances as the two chidren.

The musical has been viewed as a controversial piece and the character of Bloody Mary is certainly one of the hardest to stage. On paper you have a Polynesian Islander who sells souvenirs to the US soldiers. In the past the show has has it's issues here as Evans discusses in the programme "a portrayal of a certain kind of person from a certain kind of background". Evans has moved to address this and makes the role so much more powerful as the focus is more on her as a mother who would do anything to provide for her daughter. 

Evans and actress Joanna Ampil who plays the role do it so perfectly that she becomes this warm figure who you long for and wish happiness upon especially in terms of her daughter. Ampil is outstanding in her delivery of the role. Her powerful rendition of 'Happy Talk', which has new orchestration by Theo Jamieson, will stay with me.

Rob Houchen is tremendous as Lt Joseph Cable, he emotes real feeling and connects beautifully with Bloody Mary's daughter Liat also played excellently by Sera Maehera. Maehera glides around the stage with a poise and an ease. Every movement has purpose. She is stunning to watch. The scenes together are lovely with Houchen's fine voice delivering 'Younger Than Springtime' superbly.

Joanna Ampil 'Bloody Mary' and Rob Houchen 'Lieutenant Robert Cable'. Photo by Johan Persson

There's some light relief from a fantastic Douggie McMeekin as Luther Billis. He is larger than life and brilliantly carries the role. McMeekin is the kind of actor that you can simply make you smile with the smallest of action. Watch out for his appearance in 'Honey Bun' in the second act.

The cast of over 30 are all bring energy, great vocals and excellent movement to the bigger sequences. Numbers such as 'There Is Nothin' Like A Dame' or 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair' will have you beam smiling from ear to ear. The whole company pull off slick choreography by Ann Yee with real skill. A magnificently sounding full orchestra under musical direction of Jon Laird bring the classic score to life making it sound as fresh as it's ever sounded. 

The design by Peter McKintosh is outstanding. What first looks like a load of corrugated iron sheets opens and allows in the big pieces of scenery that defines each location. This is helped by immaculate lighting design by Howard Harrison and video design by Gillian Tan. There's great sound design by Paul Groothuis which adds atmosphere to all moments.

Director Evans has done a sensational job in staging this show. It's clear how much he understands the piece, and how much the piece still says to a modern audience. Whilst on the surface it's a musical with some of the finest songs in the musical theatre cannon it's also a story of love, racism, war and hope. The musical may be a masterpiece but this production goes beyond and creates something even better. One of the best musical theatre productions you will ever see.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

South Pacific plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 22nd October 2022. Tickets are available from The tour then continues with visits to Edinburgh, Leeds and Canterbury. Visit for full details.

The South Pacific Company. Photo by Johan Persson

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