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Did critics have an enchanted evening at South Pacific?

The show plays to September

The cast of South Pacific
© Johan Persson

Alex Wood, WhatsOnStage

★★★★

"Director Daniel Evans begins things with a daring flair: opening to a solo dance by Sera Maehara as local Polynesian youngster Tian, the stage is suddenly invaded from all sides (two soldiers even sailing down from above). The safe, tranquil space is occupied: irrecoverably altered by muggy military machismo."

"A refined assortment of performances are on offer: Gina Beck's sweet-natured Nellie, switching suddenly from bonny to bigot, is remarkably well-tempered. As mentioned, Ampil cuts through the flimsy material to find a more sophisticated twist on Bloody Mary, while Julian Ovenden is note-perfect as de Becque, floating across McKintosh's wonderfully innovative design in an earnest "Some Enchanted Evening". Rob Houchen's captures the tortured Cable in a sweaty, controlled turn – it's a shame his rendition of "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught", perhaps the show's most politically vocal number and unflinchingly staged against the backdrop of a US flag , has its climax interrupted by a scene change."


Mark Lawson, The Guardian

★★★★★

"The show usually straddles a contradiction between lush music for optimistic lyrics – "A Cock-Eyed Optimist", "Some Enchanted Evening", "Happy Talk" – and a story bordered by violence and bigotry. Here, the tones converge more, with Joanna Ampil's complexly earthy entrepreneur, Bloody Mary, subverting "Happy Talk" as a ritualistic prayer that has lost its power. The opposing pair of gender-specific dating anthems, "Nothing Like a Dame" and "Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" are danced and sung with the requisite ecstatic vigour."

"South Pacific, following period Broadway convention, can seem unsatisfyingly front-loaded, its final act dominated by dialogue and reprise. But this production triumphantly negotiates those limitations, as well as the obstacles of staging a large-scale musical with socially distanced rehearsals and performances."


Keir Charles and company
© Johan Persson


Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

★★★★★

Evans's production is, fittingly, visually enchanting, the stage-revolve propelling agile, uniformed US sailors about as if a parade-ground had turned into a carousel. That seductiveness reinforces the shock of Act One's dramatic ambush: we get past umpteen numbers that put a spring in our step, only to be hit with the revelation that Nellie is a racist, able to accept that Emile killed a man but not that he once married a Polynesian, producing two children.

"She must go on a steep learning curve to regain our sympathy and we're not allowed any easy detachment. When Rob Houchen's dashing Lieutenant Cable (smitten with Sera Maehara's local girl Liat, the daughter of the Tonkinese pedlar Bloody Mary) croons "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" – identifying the systemic way that racism is inculcated in the young – the bold-for-its-time song acquires a shaming resonance in the sour aftermath of the Euros finals."


Joanna Ampil (Bloody Mary), Sera Maehara (Liat) and Rob Houchen (Joe Cable)
© Johan Persson


Clive Davis, The Times

★★★★

Joanna Ampil's Bloody Mary is more than a caricature. "Happy Talk", her number in the second act, is fractured and pained rather than merely jaunty. Her daughter Liat (Sera Maehara) expresses herself through poetic dance gestures rather than words. Keir Charles makes an engagingly spiv-like Luther Billis. Rob Houchen makes a dignified Cable. Ann Yee's choreography has bundles of swing-era energy.

"It's not the actors' fault that the piece plods a little in a second half in which a secondary storyline about a military operation displaces the music. The memory of that glorious first act carries us through."


Fiona Mountford, The i

★★★

"Although it must be acknowledged that "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" (sample lyric "… to hate all the people your relatives hate") is punchy and audacious as it tackles Nellie's inherited racism. Evans and choreographer Yee compensate for the fact that Liat (Sera Maehara) – who is effectively sold by her mother to the highest bidder among the American soldiers – is almost wordless, by affording her a solo dance slot that bookends the show.

"Nonetheless, lots of sinuous choreography cannot compensate for the uneasy fact that it is not for her verbal dexterity that Lt Joe Cable (Rob Houchen) loves her. 'South Pacific'' in the 21st century: brave or foolish? I fear the balance tips towards the latter."

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