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South Pacific (Tour - Wimbledon)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Rodgers and Hammerstein's brilliant evocation of wartime love, heroics, black market dealings and racism has one of the best scores in musical theatre.

Every song in South Pacific is a winner, not just as a musical number, but also for beautifully maintaining the momentum of the narrative.

Now on tour, this much lauded Broadway transfer happily succeeds in the musical department, with the glorious orchestra driving the show. On the stage, it's not quite so great.

As Nellie Forbush, the flighty young nurse who falls in love with the older Frenchman — Matthew Cammelle's Emile — Samantha Womack is horribly miscast. She sings the songs adequately, but lacks the energy in her performance that would give the role the zing it needs.

The romance between Womack and Cammelle lacks conviction, with little spark of chemistry between them and nothing in the portrayal of Nellie that points to why Emile is so entranced by her. By contrast, Cammelle is strong and enigmatic, his voice powerful and full of emotion, with "This Nearly Was Mine" a real show-stopper.

South Pacific at the Barbican. Photo credit: Simon Annand
As Luther Billis, the "Del-Boy" of the South Pacific, out for a quick buck but ready to put himself in danger when it matters, Alex Ferns plays the comedy well. Unfortunately he stretches a broad American accent so far that some of his dialogue is unintelligible.

His sidekicks, Stewpot (Cameron Jack) and the Professor (Luke Kempner) fare better, and Daniel Koek as Lt Cable brings a strong presence and voice. The usual highlight, "Bali Ha'i" from Bloody Mary (Loretta Ables Sayre), doesn't quite hit the mark, but she adds an interesting darkness to the role, making her more than just the usual cuddly islander.

But the show really takes flight when the male and female ensembles of Seabees and Nurses hit the stage, with "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" giving an early welcome boost. They work their socks off, providing the energy and drive that many of the other scenes lack.

Michael Yeargan's set is spot-on, with palm trees, blue skies and louvres evoking the warmth of the South Pacific, the mysterious island of Bali Ha'i a threatening presence in the distance.

Donald Holder's lighting is also superb, the bright sunshine of the island contrasting with the shadowy threat in the war-room, a reminder that this isn't just a jolly tale of romance.

This South Pacific is an enjoyable show with a couple of stand-out performances and wonderful ensembles. But the star of the evening is the music.

- Carole Gordon


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