South Pacific is about picking your battles. Should our lovely heroine re-think her deeply held prejudices so that she can be with the man she loves. Should our hero take on a suicide mission or stay out of the conflict and live for his new love. Should the young, ambitious Lieutenant conform to the life that is expected of him or stay with the beautiful Liat.
Yet it’s not just the characters that have to pick their way through a minefield, producing and directing South Pacific is not without it’s potentially explosive situations.
How, for instance, to handle the stereotyping and racism that underscores the production in a sensitive and appropriate manner? Firstly, the terrifyingly capable Loretta Ables Sayre has been brought on board to play Tonkinese trader Bloody Mary. An old hand in the role, Ables Sayre was awarded a Tony for her portrayal of the wily stallholder in 2008. Her strong presence and understanding of the character makes her performance entertaining and evocative where many lesser performers would simply be overwhelmed by stereotyping. Secondly, Director Bartlett Sher retains an undercurrent of racial aggravation brewing between ensemble players through casual encounters that lead up to the production’s final scenes. It provides a sense of continuity that can sometimes be absent from other productions. Sher’s involvement in the production looks to end there however, many important elements of the show basking in neglect. Notably, the actors seem to have been left very much to their own devices, performing out toward the audience from a spotlight centre stage rather than interacting with one another or indeed, having had any feed back about their enunciation and accent work. It’s as if a local amateur production has been suddenly blessed with a massive budget and engaging actors but none of the lessons in pacing, staging and dramatic nuance that come with West End or Broadway experience.
The show’s saving grace is a gung-ho cast that have really embraced the attitude of a bunch of rough and ready service personnel trying their best to get up to mischief. Samantha Womack’s lithe Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and Alex Ferns’ turn as Luther Billis, the Sgt Bilko of the South Seas, will certainly please the punters.
Run ends April 14