This is CFT at its best - powerfully, poignantly and brilliantly back
Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific (which was originally scheduled for Festival 2020) has been rescheduled to Festival 2021, running from 5 July – 5 September.
1943. On an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, US troops are kicking their heels amid the cacao groves while restlessly waiting for the war to reach them.
Nellie Forbush, a navy nurse from Arkansas, finds herself falling for the French plantation owner, Emile de Becque – a man with a mysterious past. The scheming sailor Luther Billis runs a makeshift laundry to earn a quick buck, but he’s no match for the quick-witted Polynesian Bloody Mary who’s intent on exploiting these foreigners.
When young Princeton graduate Lieutenant Joe Cable is flown in on a dangerous reconnaissance mission, love and fear become entwined as the island’s battle for hearts and minds begins.
This much-loved, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical opened in 1949 to huge success, becoming one of Broadway’s longest running hit shows. It boasts one of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s most memorable scores, featuring songs such as Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and Bali Ha’i.
This new production is directed by Artistic Director Daniel Evans whose previous Chichester productions include This Is My Family, Quiz and Fiddler on the Roof.
Making their Chichester debuts are Julian Ovenden (Bridgerton, Downton Abbey, Merrily We Roll Along, Grand Hotel, BBC Proms) as Emile, Joanna Ampil (Cats, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon) as Bloody Mary, and Rob Houchen (Les Misérables, The Light in the Piazza) as Cable*. Keir Charles, who played Chris Tarrant in Quiz, returns as Luther Billis. Alex Young, who played Sally Smith in Me and My Girl, shares the role of Nellie with Gina Beck, who is pregnant, from 5 August and takes over full-time from 23 August.
Our programmes are designed to be the perfect insightful companion to the production. The South Pacific programme includes rehearsal photography, an interview with members of the cast and creative team, an article on Rodgers & Hammerstein's political involvement, extracts from James Michener's original novel, biographies and news from the Theatre.
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A roof-raising triumph. Gina Beck’s clarion soprano and Julian Ovenden’s emotive tenor voices as Nellie and Emile, confirm them as superstars of musical theatre.
An enchanting musical done to perfection. Meltingly gorgeous songs, Daniel Evans’s production is visually enchanting, Choreographer Ann Yee gets the best out of everyone.
Daniel Evans’s exhilarating revival of their 1949 hit South Pacific is a timely reminder that, at their peak, the huge emotions they engendered were in service of serious ideas in punchy musical theatre. And given that this musical is famously a powerfully anti-racist statement, it couldn’t be timelier. David Cullen’s new orchestration demands 15 players – a serious rarity these days – and hearing subtle woodwinds and the shimmer of a harp delivers delicious depth and colour. And then there’s the eye-widening cast of 31 (plus children). Thanks to them and Ann Yee’s zesty, heat-building choreography, the big numbers really deliver
Glorious. The genius of the show is that it weaves the politics into a string of gorgeous melodies.
Daniel Evans’s production bursts with energy as it foregrounds an anti-racist message in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. A magnificent opening sequence shows Sera Maehara as the Tonkinese girl offered up to a US lieutenant, dancing alone, swaying as if in water, then surrounded by a circle of martial men, engulfed by the sounds of war; pretty much wordless in the movie, she is here given a marvellous language of gesture. Her mother is finely reimagined by Joanna Ampil – as a driven human being, not merely a seller of human heads. Evans, one of the great directors of musical theatre, ensures flamboyance and enormous, nonstop buoyancy. Ann Yee’s choreography puts springs under sequences of goggle-eyed chaps and girls in swimsuits. These soaring melodies carry the danger of delusion – but are also truly glorious.
A tropical treat. Chichester Festival Theatre is back, with a big summer musical in Daniel Evans’s ravishing and well-oiled production, with gorgeous Technicolor set design by Peter McKintosh. An evening of blissful enchantment.
Director Daniel Evans, both at Chichester and before that at Sheffield, has succeeded in breathing new life into old musicals. And he’s got another winner here. A strong cast is led by Julian Ovenden as the plantation owner Emile de Becque, and Gina Beck bravely throwing herself around as Nellie. Rarely has the drama sounded more immediate or more moving. There’s a brilliant, show-stopping performance from Keir Charles as the wide boy Luther Billis; Joanna Ampil portrays Bloody Mary as a clever entrepreneur, not a caricature native, and the part of her daughter (Sera Maehara) is filled out by some eloquent dance solos from choreographer Ann Yee. This show deserves to be seen, especially if, as I hope, it transfers to the West End.
Mail on Sunday
Rodgers and Hammerstein's much-loved musical with utterly captivating tunes is a visual treat that will be perfect for anyone deprived of a theatre feast
This is the CFT at its best - powerfully, poignantly and brilliantly back, director Daniel Evans masterminding the most sumptuous pictures. But maybe the real treasure in the show is Gina Beck’s wonderfully-expressive performance as Nellie Forbush. It’s most definitely a show with something to say, and it is said brilliantly and provocatively across the cast. Bold, brave and beautiful.
Chichester is back with a bang. Evans fills this staging with energy, wit, and joy, sublimely orchestrated by Nigel Lilley, sparkling choreography by Ann Yee and Peter McKintosh’s designs give the piece a glorious dynamism. Daniel Evans has reinterpreted and refreshed South Pacific for our era.
Enchanted by a ‘South Pacific’ for today. Daniel Evans’s scintillating production has all the dazzle, energy and charisma we’ve come to expect of musicals at this venue. It’s glorious to see a stage pulsating with life: a cast of 31 in full voice in the ensemble numbers, spinning across the stage in Ann Yee’s witty, dynamic choreography. Evans’s production revels in the joy of a galvanising musical while both celebrating its progressive stance and not shying away from its limitations.
Explodes in a sea of colour, sound and joy on to the stage. This is simply superb. It is the tonic we have all been waiting for. It is perfect beyond fault. It fizzes with energy, with sheer professionalism and magnetism, and with a cast led by Beck and Julian Ovenden who absolutely nail every single note. This is feelgood at its best.
West Sussex County Times
Joanna Ampil is a very different Bloody Mary, a rather beautiful, totally Machiavellian woman, her performance is excellent. Julian Ovenden as Emile de Becque and Gina Beck as Nellie Forbush are, quite simply, superb. The ensemble work is joyous, Chichester Festival is back
Daniel Evans has done justice to the seriousness that underlies the musical's 'cock-eyed optimism', supported by an excellent cast and creative team. Julian Ovenden and Gina Beck are superb. Joanna Ampil as a believably vulnerable Bloody Mary below the tough exterior. Of the GIs, Rob Houchen as Lieutenant Cable has a beautiful tenor voice, and Keir Charles stands out as the scheming but ultimately compassionate Luther Billis. I cannot fault this production
Truly, some enchanted evening under Daniel Evans’ contemporary and imaginative direction. The singing is absolutely glorious
Musical Theatre Review
Gloriously revived and also refreshed Rodgers & Hammerstein classic has new relevance in a spectacular production. This production really does demand to be seen
Big musical theatre is back. Gina Beck’s Nellie romps and larks gorgeously, and belts out some of the most thrillingly fine low notes anywhere; Julian Ovenden is not only a fine actor but proves to have an immense, exciting operatic voice. Seabees and Ensigns are a roaring, storming ensemble, set-pieces like Honey Bun stopping the show with our glee
It is utterly joyous and joyful. It conveys its message by stealth and winning your heart as well as your mind. Stunningly designed to fill Chichester’s large circular stage with an unfolding series of alternately beautiful and gritty stage pictures by designer Peter McKintosh. Choreographer Ann Yee supports it with wonderfully drilled choreographic moments of marching nurses and soldiers, but most especially by turning Sera Maehara’s delicate Liat into an expressive dancer who, unable to speak English, conveys her feelings entirely in dance. It is also thrilling to find such underdeveloped characters, at least as scripted, as Keir Charles’s Luther Billis, Joanna Ampil’s Bloody Mary and David Birrell’s Captain Brackett register as fully-realised life forces, not just comedic or dramatic diversion. Director Daniel Evans allows his leads to really flower; everyone is so real, it makes Gina Beck’s enchanting and poignant Nellie Forbush and Julian Ovenden’s gloriously sung de Becque capture the heart as seldom before.
Julian Ovenden is the best Emile I’ve ever seen. He is self-effacing, charming, attractive and, clearly, an attentive father. And that voice! Gina Beck is a lively match, shifting convincingly from loving to critical and from embarrassed to contrite. Her account of “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” is, as ever, an all singing, all dancing show stopper.
This is a 5-star enchanted evening and as a comeback show it sets the bar very high
Daniel Evans’s production is a triumph! Book this show now! This is the most polished, professional musical I’ve seen for some time with perfect singing and it deserves a five star accolade from Theatrevibe, the site that doesn’t do stars unless the show is really exceptional!
Daniel Evans’s take on South Pacific offers an evening of classic musical theatre, staged to perfection. Evans has assembled an outstanding company who deliver musical theatre excellence. Production values are magnificent throughout with Evans and designer Peter McKintosh making fine use of Chichester's massive revolve. Ann Yee’s dance routines, including some inspiring solo balletic routines from Sera Maehara’s Liat are just divine, while high above the stage Cat Beveridge’s luxuriously furnished 16-piece band makes fine work of David Cullen’s new orchestrations of Rodgers’ classic score.
Dazzling. Beck and Ovenden, in the lead roles, are sublime. A bold and beautiful production
London Theatre 1
One of the best musical scores ever written, wonderfully delivered in this production by a cast in fine voice with clear strong vocals and a memorable orchestration under the direction of Cat Beveridge which definitely leaves you humming the tunes all the way home.
Pocket Size Theatre
Cast & Creatives
Gina Beck, who is pregnant, plays Nellie Forbush from 5 July. From 5 - 22 August, she will share the role with Alex Young, who will perform at the following performances: 5, 6 August, 7 August matinee, 10 August evening, 14 August evening, 18 August evening, 21 August matinee. From 23 August, Alex Young will perform the role full-time for the remainder of the run.
On 14 August the role of Cable will be played by Zack Guest.
Friends: Book up to four discounted tickets at £2 off per ticket
Groups 8+ Monday and Tuesday: £29 per ticket
Groups 8+ Wednesday - Friday: £5 off each ticket
Groups 40+ Wednesday - Friday: £8 off each ticket, plus a £5 ticket for the Group Organiser
School and College Groups 10+ Monday - Friday: £8.50 per ticket; one free teacher ticket with every nine paid
Over 60s Monday - Thursday: £2 off
Full-time students in Higher Education, Jobseekers Allowance and Income Support claimants Monday - Thursday: Half Price
Full-time students in Higher Education, Jobseekers Allowance and Income Support claimants Monday - Thursday: Standby from one hour before the performance: £8.50
Family tickets (excludes Saturday evenings): Half Price for up to four U16s with every full price paying adult. Discounts applied at the checkout. All tickets must be booked and paid for in a single transaction.
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All venues: Only one reduction applies per ticket, and all discounts are subject to availability and at the discretion of the Box Office.
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Prices are guaranteed until Monday 7 June, and are then subject to change.
Content and Themes
At CFT, we want everyone to feel truly welcome and comfortable. While we try not to spoil anyone’s enjoyment by giving away ‘spoilers’ such as plot twists and narrative surprises, we also recognise that some people may find certain themes distressing. You’ll find guidance on such content below; please be aware that by reading this, some elements of the plot may be revealed. Please note that this may be updated nearer the time of the production as staging details are confirmed.
South Pacific Language: Racially offensive language prevalent at the period and some other derogatory language Nudity: None Violence: None Themes: Love, war, racial prejudice
Join Kate Mosse as she sits down to talk with director Daniel Evans about his production of South Pacific. Daniel Evans is Artistic Director of CFT and his recent productions include This Is My Family, Quiz and Fiddler on the Roof. Recorded on 12 July.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific in rehearsals
Many of the challenges and themes of South Pacific have been brought into greater focus over the past 16 months, including the significant rise in anti-Asian hate crimes against people of Chinese origin. Here, writer and journalist Zing Tsjeng asks:
What mask will they wear?
When US President Joe Biden signed the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act in May 2021, he was in full grandstanding rhetoric. ‘For centuries’, he said in his speech at the White House, ‘Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders – diverse and vibrant communities – have helped build this nation only to be often stepped over, forgotten or ignored. You know, lived here for generations, but still considered by some, the “other”. It’s wrong. It’s simply – to use the phrase – un-American.’
The Hate Crimes Act was passed in the Senate a month earlier, with nearly unanimous support. Conceived as a response to the recent spike in anti-Asian attacks, it was hailed as a landmark step in addressing racial violence towards communities of colour, enabling improved data collection of hate crimes and empowering law enforcement to identify and investigate offences. ‘Silence is complicity and we cannot be complicit’, Biden said. ‘We have to speak out.’
The legislation was the acknowledgement of a bitter and protracted wave of violence that saw Asian Americans – many of them elderly and female – assaulted in public. When the New York Times began mapping these attacks in March 2020, it recorded cases that stretched coast to coast, from Carmel County, California to St Petersburg, Florida. From sea to shining sea, Asian Americans have been beaten, spat upon, punched and pepper sprayed. They have had drinks poured on them and hit on the head with bricks and metal pipes. In the worst cases, they have died – like the six women who were killed at the Atlanta spa shooting or the 84-year-old man who suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage after being pushed to the ground.
Advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate recorded more than 6,600 hate crimes between March 2020 and March 2021 alone. People of Chinese heritage made up almost 44% of the attacks. But these incidents of violence were also, to a degree, indiscriminate – the Times reports several instances in which Asian Americans of Korean, Filipino, Japanese or Thai descent were targeted as Chinese, and insulted accordingly.
A Florida sports reporter, Josh Tolentino, was called ‘kung flu’ by a white couple and told to go back to China. Tolentino, who is second-generation Filipino American, said, ‘I am not Covid-19. I am not the Chinese virus… I am not responsible for the virus and neither are the Asians being attacked across the US.’
Racism doesn’t pause to check your ancestry.com DNA test. In the case of Tolentino and countless others, simply looking Asian – specifically Chinese – was enough to make them a target. Ever since former US President Trump stoked the flames of xenophobia by nicknaming coronavirus ‘kung flu’ and ‘China virus’, Asians all over the world have been walking with a target painted on their backs.
In Australia, four local councillors received poison pen letters, including one that promised ‘death to all Chinese people’. According to the Lowy Institute, Australia's leading think tank, nearly one in five Chinese Australians have been physically attacked during the pandemic. In the UK, Metropolitan Police stats show that hate crimes against those of Asian appearance have almost tripled since the start of the pandemic. In London, I spoke to one young woman who said that she was so afraid of being attacked that she was beginning a Krav Maga self-defence course.
It’s tempting to dismiss this as a purely coronavirus-related spike in aggression. In fact, I’ve tried to rationalise this to myself in much the same way, if only for my sanity. In one particularly terse conversation with my mother in the days after the Sarah Everard killing and the Atlanta shooting, she asked if I felt safe. I wanted to tell her that of course I was safe. I was living in London, the most multicultural city in Europe, and the pandemic would blow over soon enough. Why wouldn’t I feel safe?
But the truth is, I didn’t feel safe. On the surface, I could walk the streets relatively freely. They were bright and well-lit. On every corner there was the glowing edifice of a corner shop – a place of safety to duck into if necessary. I could call a friend instantly with a touch of my smartphone. But psychologically, I didn’t feel safe. My head was a raging, spinning machine of doom.
My mind was making a thousand calculations at once, drawing the links between these attacks and my experience of being Asian in the west – the funny looks, the racist harassment, the misogynist comments, the ‘where are you froms’ and the ‘you speak such good Englishes’ – before coming to the conclusion that no, this wasn’t just a Covid issue. Coronavirus had simply been the container ship for all of society’s misjudged stereotypes, cultural assumptions, and racist hate and fear. It had dredged it all up from the sea floor to the surface, given it a spear and called it ‘kung-flu’.
And what made it worse was the silence from those on the outside. As Vanity Fair writer RO Kwon writes, ‘Here is how the silence around anti-Asian racism has felt for the past months, year and, at times, throughout my life; like I am mired up to my waist in a terrible, sucking sludge of anxiety and pain… while white people who say they love us, who believe they’re allies – not all white people, but many – float past on rafts, in garden clothes, chatting about their day.’ Kwon’s friends said that they simply didn’t know what to say or were frightened of making it worse. To which I say, ‘Your worst is better than nothing.’
There is an ancient Chinese theatrical art known as bian lian, or face-changing, which reminds me of this strange moment in time. On stage, performers dressed in lavish masks and costumes will turn and twist around, somehow magically transforming their faces with every drum flourish and whirl. With a flick of their fans or cloaks, they swap between expressions of fear, surprise, anger and love.
The effect is disconcertingly magical and somehow uncanny – you never know quite which mask might appear next, and your body tenses in anticipation of the change, your mind working double time to figure out what might come in the seconds or minutes ahead.
Right now, I and many other Asian people never know which mask we’ll be received with when we leave home. As lockdown eases, will others look at me and perceive on my face the mask of sickness, of ill-health, of contagion? Will they take up arms – a brick, a metal pipe, a gun – against me?
And when I look at them, what mask will they wear?
Zing Tsjeng is a Singapore-born, London-based writer and Executive Editor of VICE UK.
Image credits: Stop Anti-Asian racism & China-bashing rally, Washington DC, 27 March 2021 / Elvert Barnes Photography Solidarity Against Hate Crimes demonstration, USA, March 2021 / Becker1999
This Is How It Feels
Sung by Gina Beck and Julian Ovenden from their homes to mark what would have been the opening night of South Pacific in July 2020.