Review: South Pacific @ New Wimbledon Theatre


This seductive production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific delivers a turbulent love story that unfolds amidst anxieties of race and gender.


By Robert Edwards

The Lincoln Center Theatre’s seductive production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific delivers a turbulent wartime love story that unfolds amidst latent anxieties of race and gender.

The production invites Samantha Womack, once best known for her portrayal as Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders, to the complex and sensually performed role of Nellie Forbush, the wartime nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Womack shares centre stage with baritone marvel, Matthew Cammelle, as the self-exiled French planter, Emile de Bacque.

First hitting the stage in 1949, the story lands the audience on the beaches of a mutilated paradise, where Seabees of the U.S. Navy impatiently endure a lengthy stalemate. 

Their excesses of sexual imperialism and the ever-present racial tension draw into relief America’s difficulty in justifying the ‘Good War’ and its noble mission.

As the war effort demanded new sources of labour, there surged a fundamental challenge to both the attitudes behind black segregation and the traditional role of women. 

In these regards, South Pacific is incredibly forward looking in its social commentary, and the Lincoln Center Theatre does remarkable justice to these themes. 

The regrettably small stage of the New Wimbledon Theatre is skilfully utilised, with a seamless handling of props and backdrops and lush pastel colours, which echo the Technicolor indulgence of the 1957 film adaptation. 

The orchestra’s razor sharp delivery of Richard Rodgers’ sensationally uplifting score, under the directorship of Jae Alexander, far exceeds its mere 17 members in its power to stir, and its delicate accompaniment to Cammelle’s thundering baritone. 

While the underlying sexual tension between Nelly and Emile is at times unconvincing, the cast redeems itself with a stunning vocal range, particularly Cammelle’s devastating rendition of Some Enchanted Evening.

The evening, however, belonged to Loretta Ables Sayre, cast as the firebrand Tokenise street seller, Bloody Mary. 

Her glittering UK debut brought with it an astonishing rendition of the haunting Bali Ha’i, which earned the Tony Award winning actress a thunderous applause. 

This sexy, angry production is a must see.

Visit information and tickets. The show runs until Saturday 31 March at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

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