South Pacific

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Credit: Johan Persson

Rather surprisingly that hottest place in Manchester last night wasn’t the mythical island of Bali Ha’i central to the plot of South Pacific (this was due the fabulous air con at the Manchester Opera House), however make no bones about Daniel Evans’s revival of this Roger and Hammerstein classic is one of the hottest tickets in town!

From the much-praised Chichester Festival Theatre production, South Pacific is a dual love story. The first involves a French plantation owner and an American nurse; the second an American GI, and a native Tonkinese woman. All four find themselves on an island in the South Pacific, with the spectre of World War 2 hanging over them. However, it’s not war that threatens their relationships, but their past lives, clashes of culture and most certainly current prejudices that stand in the way of true love.

Credit: Johan Persson

Cards on the table I’ve never seen South Pacific, so seeing racism tackled in such a forthright manner was quite unexpected, especially when the prejudice came in the guise of the production’s ‘heroine’, nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush. When Oscar Hammerstein penned the lyrics to ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ over 70 years ago he hoped that the subject of racial equality would have improved but sadly we’re not quite there yet.

With such a weighty subject matter the production requires some powerhouse performances and lucky for us that’s exactly what we get. Julian Ovenden is in sublime form as plantation owner, Emile de Becque. Charming, charismatic, and tortured, his rendition of ‘This Nearly was Mine’ is the highlight of the night from a show jam-packed with highlights. Opposite him is the equally excellent Gina Beck as Nurse Forbush, a performance packed with energy, like a 4tth of July firework set she draws your attention throughout, radiating warmth and joy which makes the characters prejudices all the more shocking.

Credit: Johan Persson

In addition, there are some fine supporting performances Joanna Ampil puts in a great comedic turn as Bloody Mary, the personification of a survivor, doing all she can to protect herself and family. Whilst Rob Houchen as Lieutenant Cable and Sera Maehra as Liat, bring something wonderfully different to the second love story. Houchen with his delicate vocals on the aforementioned, ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ is superb while Maehara opens the production with a beautifully haunting dance routine, which then feature throughout.

As well as Amil’s Bloody Mary, there is additional light relief from Douggie McMeekin’s scene stealing, Luther Billis, a dodgy GI, with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, think Dad’s Army’s Private Walker and you’re on the right track.

Credit: Johan Persson

Of course, being such a classic South Pacific has some big ensemble numbers in its arsenal, from the hugely infectious ‘There is Nothin’ Like A Dame’ to the bright and breezy ‘I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa my Hair’, that will have you itching to sing along.

Director Daniel Evans’ South Pacific has a contemporary feel to it and is all you could want from a night at the theatre, fantastic performances, great show tunes and more importantly a social commentary on racism, which sadly still blights society today. 

South Pacific is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 23rd July tickets available here.

Marry Me A Little

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Offering a glimmer of hope that theatre was finally returning, Marry Me A Little directed by Kirk Jameson opened at Cirencester’s Barn theatre on 16th October to rave reviews. Thankfully the piece was filmed ahead of lockdown allowing audiences to watch limited streamed performances online.

Starring Celinde Schoenmaker and Rob Houchen, two of musical theatre’s most loved voices; this musical revue from Sondeheim’s back catalogue is an emotive observation on what was and what could have been for two now single New Yorkers.

Played out side by side yet never physically touching, their history together is illustrated via Benjamin Collins’ projections of social media screen grabs which light up Sam Spencer-Lane’s atmospheric stage, while their uncertain future is examined and considered through Sondeheim’s thinking out loud, melodic vocal commentary.

The song list bursts with gems culled from final productions of Follies, Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle and A Little Night Music breathing new life into this intimite piece first seen off Broadway in the 1980’s.

Each piece is an absolute gift for these two talented performers resulting in an hour of musical theatre heaven as they take you on an emotional journey of lost love and their individual search for happiness. Circling each other with their tender delivery whilst wowing with their extrodinary talents throughout.

Bittersweet in its beauty this revamped storyline offers enough background via the couples online communication to retell this story as a relationship gone sour rather than strangers yearning for their own happy ending. Houchen swipes through Tinder while Schoenmaker responds to a booty call as their desperate need to fill the void of loneliness rings out.

Accompanied by Arlene McNaught on the piano Schoenmaker and Houchen perfectly deliver the nuances that make Sondeheim’s lyrics so special, open and ecstatic one moment, cynical and closed off the next they ensure this journey is both an unforgettable and heartbreaking hour of note-perfect escapism.

This relatable piece at a time when social media continually reminds us of the fun we’ve previously had will take you on a familiar Sondeheim rollercoaster of emotions, enthralling from the start through honest and effecting storytelling and leaving you yearning to watch again. If there was a theatrical treat like this on offer every weekend lockdown would be an absolute breeze!

Catch Marry Me a Little until Sunday 22nd Nov tickets at £13.50 are available here