South Pacific, Grange Park Opera, Hants

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The Independent Culture

Even in the midst of a power failure that brings out emergency generators and prompts makeshift lighting, there are probably few better ways to enjoy a genuinely enchanted evening than in the intimate orangery-opera house in the handsomely pillared Grange Park, set amid vast parkland.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's much-loved musical is dated, however, and it's also difficult for a small company to compete with the Hollywood or Broadway version or Trevor Nunn's multimedia staging at the National a few years back.

But Grange Park Opera makes an ambitious attempt. The director and choreographer Craig Revel Horwood may not have succeeded in making some of the gags any less uncomfortable or the overlong camp entertainment of the "Thanksgiving Follies" any less tedious, but he does introduce some novel ideas.

"There Is Nothing like a Dame" is given a comic lesbian slant as the khaki-clad nurses work out with macho gusto. And I doff my shower cap to the game girls of the lusty chorus who "wash that man right out of my hair" while stripping off and dousing themselves down from head to toe without missing a beat. As shower scenes go, it makes quite a splash. But what stays in the mind after this account of racial prejudice, clichéd portrayals of straw-skirt-shaking natives and thwarted passion among the coconut palms of Polynesia, is the music.

Grange Park is lucky in having enlisted Eliza Lumley. She is a dynamic Ensign Nellie Forbush, a delightful piece of jolly Kansas crumpet. In the colourful but cringe-making role of Bloody Mary, Nicola Hughes is excellent, too, chilling in "Bali Ha'I" and bringing an unambiguous edginess to "Happy Talk".

More of a cardboard cut-out romantic lead than a man of simmering passions, Craig Urbani gets better as the French planter with a past. He sounds pinched in some of Emile de Becque's ballads, especially "Some Enchanted Evening", but is more comfortable in the rueful "This Nearly Was Mine". Matt Rawle has the tricky task of making Lt Joseph Cable engage our sympathy in a very short space of time and if his death doesn't bring a lump to the throat that's as much the fault of the storyline as Rawle's take on the part.

Luther Billis is portrayed as more of a naughty schoolboy than a predatory, profiteering SeaBee, and the Captain lacks sufficient authority, but the smaller parts are generally adequately played, and the chorus is very decent.

The conductor, Richard Balcombe, achieves very good balance between the stage and the pit, where the Grange Park Opera orchestra plays with tremendous vitality. The choreography is tip-top, each number bursting with energy. On a stifling evening, this show bristled with prickly heat: the script may be past its expiry date but the tunes are still irresistible.

In rep to 3 July (01962 868600; www.grangeparkopera.co.uk)

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