South Pacific reviews

South Pacific, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Laura Stimpson, 
27 March 2010

It’s usually a gamble going to see an amateur production of a full scale musical in a large, professional theatre, however from everything I’d heard about Leeds Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) I had a feeling the odds of having an enjoyable evening were certainly in my favour.

LAOS was originally founded in 1890 and has continued going from strength to strength after its first performance of HMS Pinafore. The society now perform two shows a year in two of Leeds’ prestigious theatres, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Grand theatre. Until 2nd April LAOS present South Pacific, performed for the first time in 1949 it is considered by many to be one of the greatest Broadway productions of all time, and was made into a film in 1958.

Through the use of clever sound effects and an amazing full scale set, we were soon transported to a beautiful Island in the south Pacific, complete with birds singing and waves splashing. It was clear from the outset that the performers were accompanied by excellent musicians, playing the overture beautifully, which really got the audience in the mood for a night of wonderful music.

It doesn’t take long to realise that the standard of members is very high. The first scene introduces us to the two main characters, Jonathan Penton as Emile de Becque and Gemma Durkin as Ensign Nellie Forbush. Nellie is a sweet, Naïve US Navy nurse from Arkinsas, she falls in love with the handsome de Becque, a French man trying to escape his past. Penton is outstanding throughout in his portrayal of de Becque, he would not look out of place in a leading role on the West End. His singing is phenomenal and sensitive and his acting really draws in the audience. Durkin plays an adorable, sweet Nellie Forbush, she has a beautiful singing voice and plays the part with ease.

All of the ensemble scenes are well choreographed by Louise Denison. The scenes by the sailors (Seebees) are amongst my favourite, they are very entertaining, their singing is very good and they all portray an individual identity through their actions and movement. The ‘Seebees’ are Led by Luther Bilis played by the wonderful Phil Hopkins, his popeye-esque accent helped portray a larger than life character, ducking and diving to make a few dollars, Hopkins made this role his own, with some humorous and enjoyable scenes throughout.

Bloody Mary played by Pat Bell, is mesmerising throughout the show; she plays a range of emotions effortlessly, with opening humour, scorn, excitement and hope. Her singing is good, and her stage presence excellent.

Although performed by an amateur group, at times you feel you are seeing a professional cast, I did, however, feel a little let down by the sound production. During the overture the orchestra was not well balanced and sounded like they were playing in a box, although this did settle, issues with balance between the orchestra and cast did detract at times, as you often couldn’t hear the cast and occasionally some of their speech was totally missed. These are only small niggles which I’m sure will be sorted out during the production run.

You cannot fail to leave the theatre without singing one of the many familiar songs you will hear including Bali Ha’I, I’m gunna wash that man right outta my hair, some enchanted evening and happy talk, Rodgers and Hammerstein really knew how to craft a good melody, and here they had them in abundance, this is the highlight of the musical, as occasionally the book itself is a little weak, the Music is outstanding though.

A wonderful musical with an exceptional amateur cast very well directed and choreographed. I certainly had an ‘enchanted evening’.

South Pacific
Zoe Clifton, 
28 March 2010

Leeds Amateur Operatic Society’s latest show, South Pacific, proves that they’re far from an amateur group. The music, cast, set and overall performance was very professional and provided a fantastic evening out – which was enjoyed by young and old alike.
This much loved musical centres around Nellie Forbush, who’s working as a nurse on a US Army base in the South Pacific. She falls in love with a French man named Emile de Becque, but as she discovers more about his life and family, she struggles trying to overcome her personal prejudices.
There’s some great chemistry visible between the two lead characters – resulting in romantic duets and realistic embraces. Gemma Durkin particularly flourished in the role of Nellie, with her heartfelt performance, powerful voice and likeable character.
Another romance occurs between local Tonkinese lady, Bloody Mary’s daughter (Liat) and an American officer named Joe Cable. However, as Bloody Mary tries to pressure Joe into marrying Liat he pulls away, feeling similar racial intolerance as Nellie. With both Joe and Emile’s relationships up in the air, they decide they have nothing to lose and go-ahead on their dangerous mission to spy on Japanese ships – but will they both return to the island safely?
The highlight of the show was undoubtedly Phil Hopkins’ performance as the comical Luther Billis. Although a leader of the American seabees, he struggles to set a good example – often finding himself in trouble with those higher in command. This light-hearted character has the audience laughing, as he embraces his feminine side and causes havoc in the base.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s upbeat and catchy music was beautifully performed by the orchestra. The songs sung by the chorus particularly lifted the mood, including the girl’s interpretation of ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair’ (including dancing with towels a-plenty) and the macho rendition of ‘Bloody Mary’.

South Pacific or South Yorkshire?
Rod McPhee, Yorkshire Evening Post 
31 March 2010

Bit of a pedestrian one to be seen on the stage of Leeds’s home of cutting edge theatre, but then this is a slot on the schedule occupied by LAOS. That’s Leeds Amateur Operatic Society in case you didn’t know, the not very amateur at all operatic society who stage big productions twice a year in the city. Ashrewd choice of show this time round. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wartime classic is packed with tunes – from Happy Talk to Some Enchanted Evening and There is Nothing Like a Dame, even a bad production would be rather good – and this isn’t half bad.
The trouble with LAOS is that everything they do performance-wise (ignoring some of the questionable sets and lighting) is 95 per cent impressive, so on those occasions that things go awry they are all the more glaring. For example, most of the actors in this version of South Pacific master the American accent, but then someone will come in, with perhaps just one line, and deliver it with a grating hint of South Leeds. There are other hiccups along the way. Some members of the chorus tend to over-express like silent movie stars, others are as expressive as a house brick. No matter, the lead performers are pretty darn impressive. Liam Gilbert is perfect as heartthrob Lt Cable, and Paige Drury-Lawrence makes for a suitably hypnotic Liat.

Gemma Durkin in the lead part of Forbush is overwhelmingly good while Phil Hopkins as Billis and Pat Bell as Bloody Mary steal the show. Mike Porter as Captain Brackett was a personal favourite, though. Try as you might, and the prejudice of them being an amateur company is difficult to shrug off, it’s difficult not to like LAOS and the sheer commitment they display. That, coupled with the fact that this is one of the best musicals of all time, makes this a difficult one to knock.

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