Like all Rogers and Hammerstein shows, this one in particular offers many opportunities to any able company.
There are vibrant and energetic chorus numbers for both women and men, and the interplay between each creates much of the humour that acts as a welcome contrast to the underlying romantic and prejudicial themes of the plot.
In many ways dated, but like all good works of art, the music has warmth and a richness of melodic line that is welcome, and these qualities add much to the 'tear-jerking' potential of the romantic theme in particular.
In the wrong hands an amateur performance of this show and the others in the world-wide familiar `set'- Carousel, Sound of Music, and of course 'The King and I', can be an embarrassment, but when pitched well with a strong cast, it can be magical.
On entering this theatre, and knowing that all of these shows depend on a large canvas, the question clearly arose: Will 'South Pacific' work here?
The small size of the stage that was further reduced by a cleverly constructed 'compound' for the orchestra, was potentially limiting. However, while the cast seemed to have been encouraged to use every bit of space in the performing area, even spilling into the auditorium at times, it never seemed over-crowded. The set was economical, and Emile's terrace with its warm decors, gave way to a well-used office, and a scruffy radio shack and back again with ease. The movement within these confined spaces were well-rehearsed, and although a squeeze for all but the children, all seemed convincing.
There was height provided mid-stage left by a box-like rostrum that probably afforded space for the cast when about to make an entrance as well as providing a very interesting an ingenious shower head for Nellie.
The ambience of a Pacific Island relied on a lighting plot to provide the heat and intense light, and lots of thought had gone into this, of which more later.
There is a difficulty, in these days of finding an acceptable level of imitation skin colour, in explaining the surprise that Nellie felt when meeting Emile's children, and the dismay that Joe suddenly felt at the prospect of marriage to Liat. As a result, the original visual dramatic impact of the theme of racial discrimination implied in the script cannot be made in a present-day production as effectively as it must have in the mid-twentieth century. However, the other difficulty that presents itself to any production of this show, namely, an authentic French accent, had been expertly solved, All 'French speakers' were very accurate, and the children in particular did extremely well in this. To a degree though, except in ‘Dites-Moi’, the French accent lost its focus in Emile's songs, and at times, understandably in many ways, an 'Anglicised French' appeared.
The Ladies' Chorus was sensibly divided into two groups - Islanders and Nurses, and although age differences were clear in the nurses' lineup, all moved effectively in all dance routines. This left the male chorus to balance perfectly.
The interplay between the seamen of varying sorts was excellent and the cueing was sharp and effectively projected by most. Their scenes with 'Bloody Mary' were exceptionally slick and it was good to hear a regularly maintained 'general' American accent amongst them. Their corporate activities gave the show real strength throughout and their timing, demeanour, and general awareness of the dramatic moment in acting when not in focus was exceptionally well-produced.
With regard to the USA accent, the more senior officers allowed their accent to lapse a little, but what seemed to be an accent modelled on the John Wayne style by Captain Brackett contrasted well with the brash style of Billis and his crew.
The otherwise neatness of the set was allowed appropriately to become `make-do' on the occasion of the 'Thanksgiving Follies' with a somewhat thrown-together and wrinkled back cloth, and a clumsy and suitably dated microphone which seemed to work, (such was the effective illusion). With the exception of the outfits of the 'Concert Party' showing little evidence of them being made from 'newspapers and rope' according to the script, this scene was so well-produced for various reasons. Not the least of which was the sensitive choreography that gave the impression of a shy and somewhat embarrassed 'amateur' routine from the nurses. Nellie too was seen to be 'performing' as an MC, and her presentation here was just so beautifully ‘o.t.t’. The 'audience's' reaction to the lighting failure in using the auditorium to explore the reason was also inspired.
The belly dance was 'a cherry on the cake'!
The casting overall was strong, and the action became very credible owing to the skills of the players. The wheedling, sometimes shrieking Bloody Mary contrasted so well with the clean, yet 'hick' demeanour of Nellie; Emile's mature relationship with Nellie was nicely juxtaposed with the juvenile yet blossoming love of Joe and Liat. Possibly Joe had been encouraged to be a touch too cynical, but his character was allowed to warm with his new-found love until the stark reality of the impossibility of the relationship hit him hard. Emile's strength emerged well from the initial scenes of family docility. Nellie's character was always under close scrutiny for she had the central responsibility of making everything happen, and her development was just perfectly brought out.
It seemed though, that despite the dialogue being extremely well produced and expertly plotted on this small stage, for some reason, the action during the more sedately moving songs, especially the solos had been given less hours of attention. For example, most solos of Emile were static throughout, and Joe and Liat knelt down then got up again without obvious reason in his main number.
Some songs might also have been a notch or two down on the metronome to make them a touch faster. For example, the pace of Joe's song 'Younger than Springtime' was punishingly slow, and almost fell apart.
Thankfully, the strong singing skills carried all principals through all of these slower songs, but the apparently advocated 'stand and sing', with little apparent thought to reflecting the detail of Hammerstein's brilliantly constructed lyrics, happened once or twice too often.
Further, the two couples in their various scenes might have been less often set in profile, or at least moved from profile to a forward-facing 'hug', or indeed any relevant move away from a static picture, especially towards the end of the show perhaps?
Conversely, the songs offering opportunities for energetically choreographed patterns were brilliantly set.
Overall, a most commendable production.
Production points in more detail:
On such a small stage it was a triumph to have set many attractive routines without accident! The 'Wash that Man' routine with the towels providing some really colourful movement was a delight. The moveable bath- tub added some extra fun to this vibrant and happy scene. The rather 'shy routine' in the 'Thanksgiving concert' referred to above was a stroke of brilliance. The later addition of parasols gave some further 'class' to the concept. The occasional colourful chorus move was subtle and tasteful, and those involving Nellie throughout the show, brought out her happier moments most effectively. The final pictures of the routines were memorable in their balanced attractive shapes.
This was expertly constructed, and like all aspects of the production worked out economically and with a design to be moved without fuss. The change from Terrace to Office using the same space was some achievement indeed! The central colourful collection of skirts and souvenirs set the scenes effectively for Bloody Mary, and added a welcome colour to centre stage. The subtle palm trees worked, but the shower for Nellie was exceptionally well designed. Not only did it work it was amusing too.
A set which at one time was able to show opulence and comfort in Emile's residence and at another the sweat and grime of an officer's workplace; the auditorium of a Concert Party production on the one hand and an exotic beach a moment later, all within the space of a few metres. All very commendable!
Most Naval uniforms fitted well, especially those of the women, but some men's were in poor shape. Joe's for one was a few sizes too large it seemed. It would have been appropriate to 'smartened- up' the Officers, even allowing for the apparent heat of the place. (Incidentally, a haircut for Captain Brackett would have been most welcome!)
The tied-up blouses for the women worked well, and contrasted with the more variable quality of the sailors' blue shirts.
The virtual sailor outfit of Bloody Mary underlined the frequency with which she did business with the sailors, it also underlined her dependence on them and, in some ways, her poverty too.
The Bali-Ha'i chorus was appropriately colourful.
All of Nellie's costumes Were nicely fitted, and her off-duty costumes were very attractive. Emile's and his household equally so.
The grass-skirt outfit for Billis in the Thanksgiving Concert was really amusing, and 'brought the house down'.
From the bouquets to the bath-tub, the multiplicity of props down to the scrap of paper that Nellie screwed up kept the off-stage crew very busy. The parasols, the grass skirts and more mundane radio with earphones were all in place at the right time, and added appropriately to the credibility of the scenes.
The sound effects of crickets, aeroplanes, jeeps, radio messages, the latter both clear and distorted, as well as many others, were not only well timed, but sounded 'authentic'.
It was a sound system that was never over used for the casts benefit, but added much to their audibility. Just one small 'blip' when we lost Nellie (when in her red dress on the Sunday afternoon performance), but otherwise, a faultless application of 'sound'. Most commendable!
This was exceptionally creative and with the music created mysterious mood for Bali Hal with some very effective changes. There were always warm 'positive yellows' for the sunlit scenes and 'silvery blues' for the night-time settings. The cues were always changing according to the mood as they should, but imperceptibly- which is the skill of course. Congratulations!
The necessity of having only a few stringed instruments because of the lack of space was a real drawback to the effectiveness of some of the underscoring as well as the more expressive vocal solos. Most underscoring might have been done perhaps by a combination of both keyboards?
It might also have been appropriate, as the theatre is such an intimate one to have asked for the 1st violin solos to be played an octave lower at times. Exposure to such technical demands as were evident is rarely managed by other than professional players.
Further, some of the introductions to the songs might have been curtailed, and indeed perhaps where possible cut, unless continuity was essential. The harp effects in keyboard 2 were very effective, as were the flute and percussion work. It was a delight to hear a percussionist sensitive to the action by the way.
The chorus singing was generally good. The part-singing for the Islanders was especially pleasing in its balanced harmonies, and the vocal energy of both choruses of nurses and seamen, especially the latter were outstandingly well-maintained.
The pace of all slower numbers might have been a tad faster, but 'Younger than Springtime' needed considerably more than 'a tad'.
The singing skills of all the principals was well above average, but Nellie's variety of attack and tone was exceptionally musical, and carried the show with the others to a very high standard in solo singing in the style of this show.
Overall, the vocal aspects of the show were very pleasing indeed, the accompanimental aspects had just a few unwelcome blemishes.
Mr Curtis acquitted himself very well in this part. Perhaps at times his solo songs lacked some aspects of presentation in that he rarely changed position on stage to gain visual reflection of their lyrical content, but they were always sung with a good tone and excellent intonation.
Mr Curtis certainly captured the modesty and the sensitive qualities of this character. He was never 'over- romantic' in his dialogue with Nellie and gave her a very good chance to establish and develop strong contrasts between them. Perhaps his French accent was a little lost in his songs, but in his dialogue he was brilliantly consistent. A very strong performance.
It was clearly obvious why the company asked Ms Sullivan to come back to the stage. She should always be on it! This performance was as near professional as it could be without being so.
Her timing, characterisation, development of character, singing qualities, energy in all that she did whether downcast or electrifyingly happy gave everyone on stage (and in the audience) a lift.
'The Mid-West Hick'(with a great USA accent) that changed to a mature and loving woman was totally credible.
If there was a weakness anywhere, it might be in the vocal range mid- stave where the lighter voice had to be used in some climactic phrases but that's just being `picky'!
A brilliant performance! Congratulations!
Mr Hawker's strong voice and superbly consistent USA accent enabled him to capture this character with ease. In every scene he was the amusing rogue, always 'on the make' if possible, and the butt of many a comment. He was able to show real skill in 'leading' the male chorus, and despite a couple of slight intonation problems, he carried 'Nothing like a dame' with panache. His scene with the Captain after his escapade in the Pacific, was highly amusing and well- timed.
His 'delivery' was always strong and in character. His belly dance in the Thanksgiving Show was a gem! An excellent performance overall!
Ms Hole made a superb job of this part. She found the contrasts within the character brilliantly. She was sometimes mysterious, sometimes brash, sometimes pathetic, sometimes strong. Her clever business acumen always won over and although the tragedy of Joe was a real blow, there would always be a belief for a positive outcome for her.
Ms Hole's singing voice is really special, and proved yet another highly capable principal in this production. A lovely mellow Mezzo tone always emerged with vibrant warmth. Her 'Bali Ha'i was 'hypnotically brilliant'. An excellent performance.
Mr Rees-Oliviere was of the right stature and capability for this part; young, upright with a strong well-tuned voice.
It was a pity his uniform was so ill-fitted.
He coped with a really difficult pace for his 'Younger than Springtime'. (A man with less vocal ability would have found it impossible at this pace!).
He developed the character well, though at first perhaps he was a touch too cynical. Catching the designed tenderness in his scenes with Liat beautifully, he gained, as a result of this hard work, genuine regret from the audience at his passing.
A strong performance which augurs very well for the future!
Jerome and Ngana:
Owen Heaton and Lola Brady were a 'joy' in this performance. They had been well-drilled in the French accent and spoke it outstandingly well. Their 'Dites-Moi' that 'topped and tailed' the show is a potential disaster for many amateur companies. They ensured that the show got off to a perfect start! A delight! Congratulations!
Margot: Ms Foxon gave a well-shaped performance. A great French accent. Very credible as a kind, maternal carer for the two children.
Abner, Stewpot, and Professor:
Messrs Robson, West, and Sutton gave three contrasting and effective performances that gave Billis the cues from which to bounce with ease. Great support here. Good timing good projection, and well-shaped intonation in the USA accents.
Perhaps a touch dishevelled for a Captain in the USA navy, Mr Holmes nevertheless had the vocal authority and the clarity of delivery appropriate for the part. Whether or not the vocal intonation was modelled on John Wayne, the contrast to the somewhat 'pacey' speech of Billis, the exchanges with whom proved very amusing, worked very well. His scenes in the office were well-timed and the tension he created in his dialogue with the others around him in these scenes were very valuable to the dramatic impact of the more serious side of the story. A strong performance.
A good contrast to the booming voice of Capt Brackett, Mr Heaton timed his dialogue well with him. Even though perhaps he allowed his accent to 'slip' occasionally which affected his credibility once or twice, his performance was 'solid' enough and added much to the 'command structure' of the naval theme. A good supporting performance.
Miss Parker played this delicate part very well, moving sensitively and reacting to Joe's advances in a modest and shy way. With nothing much to say, she was yet able to communicate effectively with the appropriate body language, so that she gained the required sympathy for the outcome of this aspect of the plot. A very safe performance.
Having a magnificent beard to underline his probable tough seafaring qualities, Mr Brown's gruff intonation added much to the tension in Brackett's office when 'receiving' the radio messages from Emile. A 'bit' part of significance!
All other Sailors and Ensigns played a huge supporting role in ensuring that there was no weak link in this performance. All these other 'bit' parts were in good hands, all were on cue, and paced well.
This was a show or real quality. The company should be justly proud of its achievement. There was no really weak link in the principals' line-up, indeed many were just outstanding. On the top of all these excellent contributions was a 'Nellie' who is a gift to the amateur stage. In short a show well-worth the 100-mile round trip! Congratulations! With thanks for the warm hospitality shown to me and my wife,