South Pacific is Old School with a ‘ch’, not a ‘k’. Think less Hacienda revival night, more retro glamour. It was all classic tunes, breezy set pieces and dashing older gents drinking champagne. You might even expect someone to give up their seat for you on the bus home.
But whilst the dialogue was packed with old-fashioned romance and 50s postcard cheekiness, it wasn’t dated. The phrase “stingy bastard” is a running joke, and you get to see two naked sailors – which apparently “wasn’t in the original”. Original, schmoriginal I say. There was even Samantha Womack (The Artist Formerly Known As Janus) in a shower scene, albeit with more 50s bathing suits than the FHM showering she did in Up ‘n’ Under.
Ask someone if they’ve seen South Pacific and you’ll get one of two answers. One, they’ll say no. Or two, they’ll burst into a song you know but didn’t know you knew. Because this Rogers & Hammerstein classic has been around for over 60 years. And judging by the audience, most of its biggest fans have too. But with the 50s revival now big business, it’s got great retro appeal. You could imagine Mad Men’s Don Draper swirling a whisky tumbler hoping that nobody noticed him tapping his well-heeled foot. Not that the clapping, laughing, happily-humming-along people of Manchester would mind.
Its 1949 origins even meant there was smoking on stage. Smoking, remember that? It was the barometer we used to use to see who the cool kids were in school. Set during WWII, here it served to set the period well.
We’re in the South Pacific Polynesian islands, home to an American base and a French plantation owner with an eye for a US Navy nurse. They meet over a brandy, she falls in love, he tells her he killed someone, she freaks out, he drinks more brandy, she has issues with his kids being half-Polynesian and he’s asked to be a spy… all before the second act. Whilst the issues may have been handled differently by today’s writers, there are plenty of story threads, with fewer soppy ballads than you’d expect too.
With Samantha Womack in the lead role amid a galaxy of West End stars, the vocals are impeccable. However, the French accent of her love interest may not have cut it on Eurotrash and the chemistry could have been more heated. Alex Ferns’ comedy sailor was fun though. Seeing Trevor from Eastenders trying to work double-denim in front of Manchester’s elite served sweet justice for attacking Little Mo. Well almost.
With such high calibre orchestral and cast performances, this was the feel-good musical equivalent of one of your five a day. (Although seeing one of the blokes wearing a coconut bikini made it more like three.)
I left wanting to go on an exotic holiday where courteous gents woo you against dramatic sunsets. And sex on the beach is a tender theatrical scene that marks the start of a great romance, not a cocktail that kicks off a night in Yates’. Because even the Palace Theatre foyer offered a taste of the Pacific. Not literally – they only sell oversized bags of Maltesers – but there were palm trees, nautically dressed ushers, even a boat. So, get yourself a brandy and a bag of Maltesers, don your sharpest suit and get carried away on the retro wave of the South Pacific.
Palace Theatre Manchester
25 October – 5 November 2011