South Pacific at the Connaught – another reason why we have to save the theatres..

South Pacific by Worthing Musical Comedy Society

The Connaught Theatre Thursday May 19th 2011 

Director: Lee Payne  / Choreography: Terri Moore  / Lighting Director: Stephen Holroyd

It was good to see a packed Connaught Theatre warmly receive South Pacific’s cute opening scene as Sky Cook and Robert Glick, playing the children of the Musical’s romantic lead Emile De Beque, sang and acted in French. The preamble with WWII combat footage reminds us that there is a serious war going on behind the South Pacific froth. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical is based on Tales of the South Pacific by Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist James A. Michener which focuses on the story of an American nurse in World War II, Nellie Forbush (showstopper Amelia Regnante), who falls in love with De Beque, a French plantation owner played by Chris Keen who exudes warmth and character throughout. He confesses that he killed a man in France – but what she still doesn’t know is that he has two mixed race children. There is an undertow of criticism of the US racial insularity running through the script which led to some discomfort in society at the time, but which seems quaint and arcane today.

The US army, Captain George Brackett (played splendidly by Paddy Gosden) and Commander William Harbinson (captured perfectly by Andrew Taylor), need his assistance and recruit Nellie to try and uncover De Beque’s political opinions.

Adam Knight

Running alongside this main romance is the tale of Lt Cable (Adam Knight, showing huge promise and smouldering control in his first lead) and Liat (the doll-like and demure Kristie Murphy), the daughter of Bloody Mary (played with wit and style – and with vocal excellence by Caroline Lowe). Their rendition of Happy Talk was memorable.

Some of the dialogue and vocal performances were hard to discern against the music – a mixing issue rather than a musical one. The band was excellent and ably led by MD Nigel Newman.

The character of Luther Billis is a comic anchor of the show and a lot of responsibility sits on the shoulders of the actor playing him. John Chambers does this with energy, pace and tremendous humour. John can also sing which is a bonus. His performance of Honey Bun with the full line-up of dancers was a highlight of the evening.

I have to mention first timer Michelle Quibell (Ensign Dinah Murphy) who delivered a memorably comic performance in the ‘Wash that man right out of my hair’ scene. Will Croome as Lt. Buzz Adams had the cameo of the night with his rat-a-tat-tat delivery in the military briefing scene.

Amelia Regnante

The final word has to go to Amelia Regnante who was equal to the tremendous acting, singing and energy demands placed on her. Resisting the temptation to overact and deliver lines in a cod southern US drawl, she sounded authentic and played the part with the subtlety and dignity it deserved. She undergoes a personal value system transformation and this was delivered realistically and with style.

The show sees two men change their minds but fulfill their military mission. The mission succeeds but one man lives and one dies. The women are defined by their relationships with their men. There’s lots of antediluvian attitudes to smile at, but this show does contain ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught’ a subtle song on many levels and delivered with understated power by talented teenager Adam Knight.

Overall, a fine show with a great ensemble WMCS cast that demonstrates precisely why the current campaign by the Worthing Theatres Trust to keep all three performance spaces open must succeed. A community show for all in a much loved community theatre.

Roy Stannard