Monthly Archives: August 2011

South Pacific – at the Barbican Centre to 1st October

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The much-anticipated transfer of the Tony award-winning Lincoln Centre production has raised expectations far too high – whilst the set is beautiful, don’t expect to be swept away to sea with the romance of it all.

Whilst much of the audience seemed to be loving press night at the Barbican, I couldn’t help but come away feeling a little cold. Something must have been lost on the Transatlantic flight – Loretta Ables Sayre’s fantastic performance as Bloody Mary gives a hint of what may have been experienced in New York, but the other transferring cast member, Paulo Szot (Emile De Becque) managed to show off his prowess as a Baritone yet fail to convey any chemistry at all with his leading lady. Within a plot that feels outdated to the stage of uncomfortableness at points, this dragged away the possibility of even becoming immersed in a convincing love story, as it was impossible to see how Nellie had fallen for the charmless Emile at all.

Samantha Womack (Nellie) has transferred from the Square to the Stage well – her voice and performance were impressive, and even more so for the fact that she had been diagnosed with a broken toe that day, yet continued with her entire routine. Anyone could be forgiven for letting this push their performance into ‘cautiousness’ as many have criticised. She climbed ladders, donned heels and did high kicks – my wincing in sympathy must have been far more obvious than any discomfort detected from the leading lady. No word but ‘Trooper’ would be adequate here.

As a less than ardent fan of Rogers & Hammerstein, I inevitably came to this performance ill prepared to revel in nostalgia. Yet I couldn’t have been alone in feeling that the production did not feel like a modern interpretation in the slightest. The world of race relations today is (thank God) unrecognisable from the 1950s. In South Pacific’s original form, Nellie is seen as a heroine for eventually learning to love the two coloured children of her widower partner. However, in the modern world the fact that she initially rejected Emile for his previous marriage to a negro simply loses any sympathy and understanding for Nellie. We are ambivalent to her transformation both because we disagree with her original standpoint, and because we didn’t believe in her true feelings to start with.

That’s not even mentioning the Lieutenant Cable-Liet relationship, during which the ‘love story’ was completely obscured by the ‘Child Prostitution’ siren wailing between my ears. A modern audience is not going to see the liaison of a serviceman and a young teenager (facilitated by her mother) as a ‘beautiful romance’. Especially when he expresses his awe by singing that she is ‘younger than springtime’. Creepy.

Credit where credit is due – this show looks very impressive. The staging and the costume convey a beautiful island paradise hit with the realities of wartime spectacularly.The male chorus are fantastic, bringing the show to life and providing comedy from ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ onwards, but they can’t make up for the integral problems in this production. It’s sad, but unless you’re a die hard fan of the original songs and interested to see this new take on it, I wouldn’t bother – there is far more interesting stuff out there. In fact, Betty Blue Eyes has just announced its closure, so I’d go along to that instead during it’s final 5 weeks to September 24th.

Parade – Southwark Playhouse until 17th September

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In a damp area beneath the arches of London Bridge until September 17th lurks something quite unexpected – a real theatrical treat set in smalltown Georgia.

Parade is an irresistible musical – having listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times, from the initial drumbeat of the opening song ‘The Old Red Hills of Home’ I tend to develop goosebumps in anticipation. The combination of Jason Robert Brown’s fantastic composition and Alfred Uhry’s book, based upon a true story of the murder trial of Leo Frank, it can hardly be beaten for quality and sheer immersiveness. It’s a simple formula of a gripping tale, accessorised with period detail and prejudices and expressed through a wonderful soundtrack.

This production has used promenade staging with audiences on either side of a central ‘catwalk’, plunging the viewers right into the centre of the action. The choreography is second to none, capturing the frenzy and anger of the local community in reaction to the central tragedy – the momentum generated is immense and the result visually spectacular.

The characterisation here is important, and the focus on the central relationship of Leo and his wife Lucille is not neglected – a great performance from Laura Pitt-Pulford captures this strong, frustrated and capable heroine’s struggle as her awkward husband is accused of a dreadful crime. Another outstanding performance comes from Terry Doe as Jim Conley, who captures this slippery character to perfection.

This is a great chance to catch a classic of modern musical theatre, and is a steal at the price – the Southwark Playhouse operates ‘airline-style’ pricing which means the earlier you book, the cheaper your ticket. The maximum price is £22.50. One tip would be to take along something to sit on as the seating can be slightly uncomfortable… That was really the only drawback of a truly great evening though, so well worth a visit.

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