UK Productions currently have three shows touring the country. They have hit pay dirt with their version of Beauty and The Beast which is feast for the eyes and the ears. But, I cannot see their revival of this Rogers and Hammerstein classic having the same effect. This is a real shame as, although the original show is feel-good, it features themes of war and racism which a young audience can certainly relate to. The wonderful score is also so recognisable, that this should be a sure thing.
But there are many things that stop this South Pacific from being a smooth ride. The two leads, Dave Willetts and Maria runner up, Helena Blackman have no chemistry whatsoever as Emile de Becque and Nellie Forbush. He underplays the role, allowing the new star to take centre stage. But she overacts; shrieking and shouting instead of emoting. Her singing voice can best be described as nice but her range is limited. She plays a dance teacher, but her moves are frankly stilted.
The set design gives the show a really cheap finish, looking like MDF and any old iron thrown together. The result being that it wobbles and shakes like a scene from Acorn Antiques, which distracts you and gives the show unintentional comedy value.
Luckily, the show does have performers who provide the show with a life jacket, stopping the piece from sinking. “There Ain’t Nothing Like A Dame” breathes much needed life into the proceedings and proves that there ain’t nothing like a decent, hardworking ensemble to lift your spirits. Led by the terrific Christopher Howell as the second hand dealer on the island, the nostalgia creeps up on you during this energetic and lively scene.
Sheila Francisco as Bloody Mary also impresses, particularly during her haunting “Bali Ha’i”- but it feels like she is starring in a different, better production. Chris Hocking’s choreography is memorable and the cast, Blackman aside, move incredibly well.
What should have been a bright and breezy production full of memorable songs and scenes ends up being a real drag as director Julian Woolford includes vignettes and drawn out elements which should have been cut. It would take a real cockeyed optimist not to feel stranded during much of this very long production.