Review: South Pacific, Company of Four, Riverside Theatre, Woodbridge, to July 5
- Credit: Archant
The production is based on James A Michener’s 1947 book, combining elements of different stories from the Second World War where American troops occupied the islands in order to strategically position themselves against attack on allied forces.
Imagine a world where war is life, and love with “the wrong type” could result in ostracising yourself from your troop or even your country. This was life as they knew it for the marines stationed in the South Pacific.
Prejudice and honour threaten the love stories of two very different sets of characters. Peachy-keen nurse Nellie Forbush (Kerri-Ann Lees) is stationed in the South Pacific and has fallen for Emile De Becque (Julian Illman), a charming plantation owner and widower. But the Frenchman has a secret life and past that he fears in sharing with Nellie, will lose her for good.
Lieutenant Joe Cable (Darren Scriven) is a newbie posted with the troops. Bloody Mary (Kathryn Bryant), the local ever so slightly crazy witchdoctor, teases and taunts him with sensual tales of Bali Ha’i and reveals her most mystical and prized possession - her beautiful daughter Liat (Laura Cunningham). How can he cope with falling in love with some one of a different race?
The usual opening night glitches, tech faults and odd missed lines did nothing to mar the talent that spilled from the stage.
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The scenery was splendid and the costumes effective, although there was some reflective shine from the men’s dog-tags where the stage lights bounced off them and into the audience. A note for the lighting crew, the ambience and feel achieved by the stage lights took the audience deep into the pacific climate, feeling warm with perfect effect. Unfortunately this was ruined every time a spotlight shone upon the lead singer during a number.
At the finale of a lengthy act one, on Emile’s Terrace, Illman and Lees’ performance and harmonies were stunning. It’s incredible, should you never have seen the film classic, just how many songs you will already know. Keep an eye out for Bloody Mary singing Happy Talk; Bryant’s voice and stage presence, combined with the sublime exotic movements of Cunningham’s Liat make for a simply exquisite number.
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Illman will completely enchant you as the dashing Frenchman, with his performance of This Nearly Was Mine gracefully supported by Jo King’s incredible orchestra.
David Crane is cast well as he plays joker of the troops Luther Billis, a bit of a wise guy, with a good heart.
After playing the comedic lead of Moonface in the company’s previous years hit Anything Goes, he once again has audiences in giggles, breaking up the sadness of the two couples’ love stories. With the help of a very funny line-up of captains, lieutenants and commanders, there is a healthy balance of the happy and sad in this show.
They couldn’t have done it without the girls chorus, who did a lovely job of I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.
Racism and the American way of approaching others is candidly discovered in the sharp but true sting of You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught and still gives food for thought. Director David Caddick should be very proud. After 25 years in the company he is taking a bow and retiring. Not a bad note to leave on. Take a chance on Some Enchanted Evening this week and see the show before it ends.