First Night: South Pacific, Barbican, London


South Pacific's magic is swept away on trip across Atlantic

"I'm stuck like a dope/With a thing called hope" sings the heroine. There's also a thing called hype, as we have been reminded by the breathless pre-publicity for Bartlett Sher's acclaimed staging of this classic 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

It ran for two years at New York's Lincoln Centre, won seven Tony Awards and has been recreated at the Barbican Centre, prior to a national tour. Does it live up to expectation?

Insufficiently, in my opinion. It's handsomely, if sparingly, designed and alluringly lit. Using the sumptuous original orchestrations, a 25-piece band does ravishing justice to the indestructible score. Just to hear them play those haunting first three notes of "Bali Ha'i" is to feel the risky, seductive pull of exotic otherness distilled to its shiver-inducing essence. But for all the talk of how the production draws out the darkness of the racial issues by reincorporating discarded material, this comes across as a highly accomplished, but faintly bland and traditional treatment.

With its documentary newsreel footage, hurtling jeeps and whizzing bullets, Trevor Nunn's 2001 National Theatre revival perhaps forced more realism on the show that it can bear, but there was no shortage of pent-up testosterone when his oil-stained, sex-starved "Seabees" launched into "There is Nothing Like a Dame". The amusing, well-drilled larking around of Sher's squad seems to lack hormonal spontaneity and balls.

That's not a charge you level against the superb Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary, the island's souvenir-seller. She plays her as a formidably fierce and calculating operator who would make Mother Courage quail and whose rendition of "Bali H'ai" sound like a creepily systematic sales pitch in the pimping of her 17-year-old daughter. Brazilian opera singer Paulo Szot brings his lovely burnished baritone and a rumpled romantic presence to the role of Emil de Becque, the lonely French planter whose wooing of young nurse Nellie Forbush is derailed when she recoils from the fact he has mixed-race children.

Former EastEnders star Samantha Womack makes an engagingly spirited and touching fist of this cock-eyed optimist's emotional journey from unexamined Little Rock bigotry to rueful self-awareness.

There's a delightful tongue-in-cheek impishness and air of sassy send-up to her performance of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" that suggest a latent independence of mind in this Nellie.

Unfortunately, there's next to no sexual chemistry between the two leading performers. That's symptomatic of a production that seems to have lost something in crossing the Atlantic and is deficient in that spark that turns respect into rapture.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk