South Pacific – Bord Gais Energy Theatre – Review
by Frank L
13th – 17th of September, 2022
South Pacific by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
A Chichester Festival Theatre Production
South Pacific premiered in 1949 on Broadway to huge acclaim. Its show-stopping songs “Some Enchanted Evening”, “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” have become classics and part of the repertoire. The heroine Ensign Nellie Forbusch (Gina Beck) comes from Little Rock, Arkansas. That was a prescient choice because in 1957 politics in the United States was convulsed by the attempt in Little Rock, Arkansas to permit black students to attend the all-white Little Rock Central High. In Little Rock the racism was overt but in South Pacific, it is the accepted latent norm but it is the same destructive force which challenges the relationship between Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) and Nellie and destroys the one between Lt. Joseph Cable (Rob Houchen) and Liat (Sera Maehara).
Therefore the critical pivotal song of the show is not the above-mentioned showstoppers but “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” with its chilling lines
“You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
and people whose skin is a different shade…
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
to hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught…”
The fifteen-piece orchestra under the baton of Jon Laird moves the show, from the first bar, at an impressive pace which is facilitated by the revolving stage which permits seamless scene changes and all sorts of alterations to the set during a scene. The costumes and various props evoke well the life of an army encampment on an idyllic island during a time of war.
Ovenden is convincing as Emile, blessed as he is with a voice that is made for “Some Enchanted Evening”. Beck was a suitably down-to-earth, no-nonsense Nellie and you could see her as a force for everyday practical goodness even if she came from Little Rock. The seamen in “There is Nothing Like A Dame” and the ensigns in “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” were exuberant and entered with gusto into the sheer fun of both songs.
This production shows that there is both relevance and joy to be had from musicals that were created in the middle of the last century. It is also sheer value for money as it lasts almost three hours, including the interval. Sit back and enjoy this fine piece of song and dance created almost seventy-five years ago. It was a pleasure to be part of the audience.