I remember singing along whilst watching the film, The King and I, on the TV as a child, so I was excited to be in the audience when it opened at Mayflower Theatre tonight.
Set in 1860s Bangkok, The King and I tells the story of the unconventional and tempestuous relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist King, in an imperialistic world, brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children.
I couldn’t tell you why I loved the film so much, seeing as it was 17 years old when I was born in 1973, I just know that I did.
And, this show reignited that love – the score, with music performed by a full-scale orchestra, is absolutely superb, and includes audience favourites Whistle a Happy Tune, Shall We Dance, and, my favourite, Getting to Know You.
It’s very clear to see how this Broadway production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is multi award-winning – it is an extravagant staging, packed with lavish costumes, a simple yet stunning set, and a cast of extremely talented performers.
Annalene Beechey plays Anna, and Darren Lee is the King of Siam – individually they are exceptional musical theatre stars whose performances are captivating and emotive, but together they are something else.
Their on stage chemistry is easy to see and, like many other theatre-goers, I couldn’t take my eyes off them every time they were on the stage.
The supporting characters are also well-cast, Marienella Phillips, playing Tuptim, has an incredible voice, Cezarah Bonner is outstanding as Lady Thiang, and Kok-Hwa Lie, who plays the Kralahome, really brings his character to life.
The young actors who play the royal children, and Anna’s son, Louis, were the audience favourites of the night though. They are a delight to watch, as they bring their energy, humour and depth, when needed, to the stage.
It is probably best not to watch the show through modern eyes, after all the novel was written in 1944, and the film released in 1956, so it does have some underlying issues that were unfortunately a sign of those times.
But this is a classic, beautiful and deeply poignant show, and I can’t wait to see it again!
The King and I runs until Saturday (17 June), tickets are on sale at mayflower.org.uk or 02380 711811.
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