The King and I UK Tour Review - Theatre Royal Plymouth
Rodgers and Hammerstein, a double act famed for the role that they played in the world of musical theatre. Oklahoma! Carousel. The Sound of Music. Cinderella. South. Pacific. I could go and on, but I won’t. I just wanted to give you a taste of this team’s catalogue. These musicals are deemed classics, they are loved, adored the world over, timeless. And now out of a UK Tour, another R&H classic is once again charming audiences with its old school style, stunning costumes and beautiful storytelling, and that show is The King and I.
Taking place in the early 1860’s, The King and I tells the tale of Anna Leonowens (played here by Annalene Beechey), an English school teacher who travels to Siam to teach the child of the King. And it is this king, played by Darren Lee, who not only turns the life of Anna and her young son Louis upside down but who also opens her eyes to the traditional way of life in Siam; a completely different world to Anna, in both positive and negative ways. Anna is a modern driven women, she knows what she wants and knows how to get it, and this is something that the king has never faced before. He is used to women as prizes, presents, something simply for the enjoyment of men, they bow at his feet and supply his every need. But Anna isn’t like that, and she is determined to change his ways and improve the lives of those around her.
Beechey is sublime as Anna, effortless vocals meet grace, class and quality, with a wonderful sense of comedy woven in for good measure. Her Anna is quick, witty, clever and funny, passionate and not afraid to speak her mind. Her and Lee make a delightful pair, with their contrasting characters bouncing off each other in many a moment that have the audience laughing out loud. The king is a man stuck in his ways, yet tentatively stepping into a brave new world. He is open to the idea of welcoming new things, but held back by tradition, by the way he was raised and the overall idea that he can have it all and do whatever he wants, simply because he is the King. The humour of the king comes as a surprise to the audience, I think, as we laugh both at his views, tradition then, ridiculous in parts now, and at his quick, silly yet wickedly clever ways of getting Anna to behave how he wants her too.
Cezarah Bonner plays Lady Thiang, the voice of authority and reason, the king’s lead wife. She is devoted to him, and determined that everyone should follow his rules, but yet there is a sense that she is warm and welcoming, a friend behind a harsh solid wall whereas Kok-Hwa Lie’s Kralahome, the king’s right hand man, is so deep into tradition no matter how dark, that nothing can pull him back. Caleb Lagayan plays Prince Chulalongkorn, the king’s eldest son and heir to the throne, trying desperately to learn all that he can to make his father proud.
Of course, you can’t have a classical musical without a love story coming into it somewhere, and here that is Tuptim (Marienella Phillips) and Lun Tha (Dean John-Wilson). But there’s a catch. Tuptim belongs to the king. Phillips impresses greatly with her vocals, and the chemistry between her and John-Wilson is sweet and loving. You will the couple on.
With impressive performances from the shows child stars, both Louis and the royal children, and an ensemble who prove themselves true triple threats with a number of impressive dance numbers, this is an old school classic that oozes class and grace, especially when paired with Michael Yeargan’s set and Catherine Zuber’s costumes, especially that famous purple ‘Shall We Dance’ ballgown.
As can be commonplace with these ‘classic’ older style musicals, this is a long show, and whilst a brief show stop was expertly handled on the night, I couldn’t help but find the second act longer than needed in places. I understand that the ballet scene is incredibly important to the story, acting as a turning point for many different characters, it adds to an already lengthy second act and slowed the pace of the story down a good amount.
Classic, classy, colourful and comedic, The King and I is as crowd pleasing as it has ever been. The appeal of the story never fades, the clash of cultures, the powerful figure and the first person brave enough to talk back against it, the embracing the new whilst respecting the old, all wrapped up in a beautiful nutshell with timeless music and loveable characters.