TRCH Ranulph

The King and I

1 March 12 words: Ian Douglas
A Hollywood legend, rightfully acclaimed for high camp, catchy tunes and high-kicking dances

The King and I at the Theatre Royal Nottingham

From the moment two gigantic golden Buddhas glide magically onstage, the audience knows this celebrated musical is in safe hands. The King and I is a Hollywood legend, rightfully acclaimed for high camp, catchy tunes and high-kicking dances. Paul Kerryson’s production captures all this glamour down to the very last sequin.

It’s a large cast, and everyone pulls together admirably. Josefina Gabrielle as Anna Leonowens and Ramon Tikaram as King Mongkut, are both excellent, even if at times they seem to channel the ghosts of Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. Well, Kerr and Brynner’s performances were such career triumphs very few actors could escape their shadow, and why bother? This play is as much a homage, reconnecting fans with the much-beloved movie. Gabrielle is particularly gifted at musical theatre and holds the show together. Fifteen-year-old Daniel Cornish (Louis) and Adrian Li Donni (Lun Tha) could also belt out a song in fine Broadway tradition.

The King and I - singing songs with the royal children

The famous tunes are all perfectly delivered, including The March of the Siamese Children, Getting to Know You, and Shall We Dance. Pure delight for any Rodgers and Hammerstein fan. On the other hand, the lesser songs, especially some solo numbers, wore a little thin.

The dancing cleverly invokes classic oriental style. In Act Two there is a play within a play, when Princess Tubtim tells the palace guests the mistranslated American story of ‘The Little House Belonging to Uncle Thomas’ and the royal children act out the tale in a ballet. The choreography trying hard to honour the ancient Thai art of Khon, glittering helmets, ornamental masks and Asian dance steps combining for a breathtaking spectacle.

The costumes are stars in their own right, with all that Victorian crinoline and Thai silk. Princesses, guards and courtesans all dressed with a ring of Siamese authenticity. Indeed, the costume and scenery add up to a spellbinding riot of colour.

Does it matter that westerners played some of the Thai parts? Is it important that some academics have disputed the veracity of Anna Leonowens’ memoirs?  Or even that the whole notion of an Englishwoman going to the heart of an Asian culture and making them better people is rather, well, imperialist? No, of course not. Sit back and enjoy the songs, the laughs and the odd tear or two. A marvellous night of escapism for any lover of the golden age of musicals.            

The King and I plays at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal from Tuesday 28th February 2012 to Saturday 3rd March 2012.