Happy Talk After Show A packed first night Haymarket house eagerly awaited BATS’ follow-up to their last production, the sublime Beauty and the Beast.
They were rewarded by South Pacific’s sweet opening scene as real-life siblings Harrison Cohen and Amelie Cohen, playing the children of the musical’s romantic lead Emile De Beque (Rob Wilson, making the best of a thankless role), sang, acted, spoke French and immediately delighted everyone in the audience, all whilst betraying not a trace of nerves. Well done to them! I am sure Ella Berry and Owen White, who perform the roles on alternate evenings, will do just as good a job.
Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical – the racial aspect of which has obviously dated – is the story of an American nurse in World War II, Nellie (Hannah Baker-Saadat), who falls in love with a French plantation owner. He does confess one of his dark secrets – he killed a man in France – but what she still doesn’t know is that he has two children.
The US army, Captain George Brackett (Gerry Frawley) and Commander William Harbinson (Colin Webb), need his assistance and recruit Nellie to try and uncover his political opinions.
Running alongside this main romance is the tale of Lt Cable (Bryn Hughes – whose rippled torso drew gasps of appreciation from some of the ladies present during his shirtless scene!) and Liat (perfectly demure and pretty QMC student Hannah Baker), the daughter of Bloody Mary (played with great vivacity by Siobhan Chapman). Their rendition of Happy Talk was absolutely charming.
The hard-working cast of amateurs were not helped by having to perform towards the front of the stage against the backdrop of a black curtain for almost a third of this production, and the staging and choreography didn’t soar as much of BATS’ previous work.
The man-of-the-match award must go to Martin Webb, who replaced Mike Dyer late in the day as key comic relief Luther Billis. He is an absolute natural, with an irresistible spark in his eye. His performance of Honey Bun with Hannah Baker-Saadat – who won over the audience with her vocal and physical work – was the absolute highlight of the evening. It was simply impossible to resist a laugh out loud as he shook his coconuts and waggled his grass skirt!