Venue: York Theatre Royal
York Light Opera’s South Pacific marks the final production before the York Theatre Royal venue shuts down for renovations, expected to last for the rest of the year. It is, in that case, a shame that it is also a production marked by glaring technical problems and stiff, unnatural staging.
The musical is set on a South Pacific island during World War II, focussing on the fledging romance between an American nurse, Nellie, (Rachael Wilkinson) and French plantation owner Emile (Richard Blackburn). Nellie is the clear principal role and Rachael brings a great enthusiasm to the character – she stands out from the cast as a singer and a dancer, especially during the ‘Honey Bun’ song. Richard’s acting is emotionally effective but his singing lacks the same amount of energy as the main characters they lack any real chemistry, making their romance almost hard to believe.
A few other cast members particularly stand out; Rosy Rowley proves herself an excellent comic actress as Bloody Mary and her actions with the GIs and with her daughter Liat (Maisie Poskitt) prove to be hilarious. Billis (Richard Hawley) and Stewpot (Gavin Shaw) are also worth note for their comedic acting. The role of Cable is shared, alternating between the two actors Christian Mortimer and Scott Goncalves on different nights. I saw Scott Goncalves play Cable and found him to be excellent, providing a great deal of room for investment in the subplot.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the production suffers from a number of technical problems that are often distracting and sometimes immersion-wrecking. There was a large amount of noise coming through certain microphones, and others seemed not to work at all – in ‘Nothing like a Dame’, whole lines were lost either to silence or near painful interference. This issue was less prevalent in the second act but it unfortunately ruined a number of earlier scenes – hopefully it will be resolved in future performances.
Additionally the sliding set caused a number of issues; large walls were attached to a mechanism on the ceiling and were sent on and off stage frequently, but they continued to shake from side to side during scenes and became distracting very quickly. Other set pieces brought on crashed on a number of occasions and needed to be moved, leading to some slow set changes that rather defeat the point of sliding them in.
In terms of staging, the choreography of a number of scenes that would have benefited from some more interesting dancing, which was often very simplistic and rigid. When the GI show at the start of the second act contained a real dance number it felt like a breath of fresh air, but the moment was sadly fleeting.
I feel disappointed at these issues because they mar what often feels like it could be a very good production of South Pacific by Martyn Knight, but as it is I can only recommend it to particular aficionados of musical theatre.