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Review: South Pacific at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

The Rogers and Hammerstein classic South Pacific directed by Daniel Evans has sailed its way onto the stage of the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC), Cardiff.

Oscar Hammerstein was an anti-racism writer and campaigner from about 1927’s Show Boat, South Pacific expands this agenda.

South Pacific. Credit: Johan Persson

The 1949 musical based in the midst of World War II follows a company of American soldiers battling with the Japanese for control of islands in the Pacific.

The twin love stories at the heart of this musical are simplistic, it’s hard to not get swept up in the romance that shifts from comedy to a more moving depiction of wartime heroism.

South Pacific. Credit: Johan Persson

Follow the whirlwind romance between a cultured Frenchman with a questionable past, Emile de Becque (Julian Ovenden) and a hick from Arkansas Ensign Nellie Forbush (Gina Beck). Meanwhile, the local matriarch Bloody Mary (Joanna Ampil) sees not only business opportunities in the occupying force, but an advantageous match for her young daughter Liat (Sera Maehara) with a young lieutenant, Joseph Cable (Rob Houchen).

One island outpost is blessed with no action so, the US troops’ thoughts naturally turn to the one thing they’re missing…romance. With the all the local Tonkinese women moved to neighbouring Bali Ha’i, one determined soldier Luther Billis (Douggie McMeekin) brings comedy to the performance with ‘There’s Nothing like a Dame’ and throughout the show. Certainly an actor to keep an eye out for.

South Pacific. Credit: Johan Persson

Nurse Nellie Forbush’s shocked reaction when she discovers the widower has mixed-race children shows the ingrained racism of the time, but 72 years ago this was also condemned as you’d except of any show in the twenty-first century.

The musical score is just staggering, overseen by a team experts (Nigel Linley, Jon Laid and David Cullen) that’s why we’ll continue to see ‘South Pacific’ staged for decades to come. With masterpieces galore, from the fun but sassy ‘Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’ to the romance of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’. Probably the most impactful song, ‘You’ve Got to Be Taught’ tells the harsh but sad reality that children are not born prejudice or racist but taught, “before you are six or seven or eight/to hate all the people your relatives hate”.

South Pacific. Credit: Johan Persson

What’s a show without staging? It was absolutely phenomenal, with moving parts – including a turntable that gives the illusion of movement without the actor moving – really immerses you into the show. With set changes from an aircraft hanger when the soldiers land, to the mystic island of Bali Ha’i, a beach or command station the crew have truly outdone themselves with the versatility.

Whilst watching the cast seamlessly transition from scene to scene the hard work of the choreographer and costume designers are also evident.

With an incredibly long first act of 1 hour 30 minutes, you’ll be grateful for the interval but eagerly await the second act.

South Pacific is showing at the Wales Millennium Centre until 15th October and tickets start from £18.50. Click here to find out more and to book tickets.