It was a fresh and vibrant Innerleithen revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific that leapt onto the Memorial Hall stage this week.
The creativity of the production team – Brian McGlasson, Anne Anderson and Derek Calder – transported the audience thousands of miles away to the South Pacific of the 1940s, with lighting effects worthy of any professional theatre.
The performances are vivid and fresh, and the story of the American navy trying to find a breakthrough against the Japanese in the Pacific during the Second World War combines romance, comedy and suspense.
The story centres around an affair that blossoms between navy nurse Nellie Forbush (Nicola Watt) and French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Iain Scott). A parallel love story involving Lt. Joe Cabel (Tom Harrison) and native girl Liat (Rachel Campbell) develops, thanks to the dubious motives of Liat’s mother, Bloody Mary (Claire Bell). In a patent sign of the times, both romances are affected by the characters’ views on race and this difficult subject is handled well.
Nicola Watt portrays Nellie Forbush’s irrepressible spirit as described in the number, A Cockeyed Optimist, to perfection. And her defiant feminism in the song I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair is nothing short of brilliant. Her voice is also well-suited to the ebullient A Wonderful Guy and the all-for-fun Honey Bun.
Iain Scott uses his strong baritone voice to brilliant effect in the role of Emile. He paints a beautiful picture in Some Enchanted Evening, and sears through This Nearly Was Mine, which depict his darkest moments of despair.
As Bloody Mary, Claire Bell wrenches you into her fantasies without ever falling for them herself.
Mary’s panoramic come-on, Bali Ha’i, imploring Cable to venture to the island of his dreams, and the intimate Happy Talk, to persuade him to stay in Liat’s arms, are equally involving, as are Cable’s Younger Than Springtime, and his realisation of his own prejudices in You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught. Rachel Campbell is a charmingly-innocent Liat and dances beautifully throughout.
Douglas Russell is a complete hoot as the opportunistic Billis and his sense of comic timing is excellent, with Honey Bun proving to be a grass-skirted, blond-wigged high point of the show. His side-kicks, Stewpot (Stewart Wilson) and Professor (Alan Frank), have great fun on stage and are ably supported by a number of people with smaller, but no less important, roles.
The “awww” factor is there in spades, with de Becque’s children, Ngana and Jerome, played on alternate nights by Lizzie Bell and Sophie Watt, and brothers Thomas and Elliot Brydon. All of the children sing and act with confidence and add youthful energy to the show and are chaperoned by the ever-young Peter Anderson as man-servant Henry.
Commanding performances from officers Brackett (John Armstrong) and Harbison (David Brown) help paint the full range of colourful personalities around whom the Pacific operation revolves.
The male chorus of Marines and Seabees is exceptionally strong and their songs – Bloody Mary and There’s Nothing Like a Dame – mix grit and humour in ways that make them just as delicious as the ballads.
There is less for the ladies in this show, but the production team at Innerleithen have built in opportunities for them to shine as nurses and natives.
The antiphonal reprise of Some Enchanted Evening as a finale is a prime example of this and shows off the strong chorus who bring a fitting close to this first-class production.
Add to the mix an outstanding orchestra, under the expert direction of John Howden, and a slick backstage operation, led by stage manager Robert Wilson, and you have a show to remember.
Tickets are available for the final performances (tonight, Friday and Saturday matinee and evening). Call 0845 224 1908 to book or pay at the door.