The King and I, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

ANNA Leonowens’ memoirs, on which Margaret Landon based her 1944 best-selling novel Anna and the King of Siam, were rather selective when it came to accuracy in telling the facts about her life, to say the least. Landon’s romantic view of Leonowens’ stay at the Siamese court as a teacher to King Munkut’s many children (he claimed over 70) were even further coloured and romanticised by Oscar Hammerstein II when he wrote the book for The King and I.

In doing so Hammerstein created two of the great roles in a musical. First brought to life in New York by Gertrude Lawrence, and Yul Brynner, in London by Valerie Hobson and Herbert Lom, and followed over the years by a string of outstanding players, their mantle falls in this presentation of the successful Lincoln Centre Theatre Theatre’s production of this classic musical on Helen George and Darren Lee.

Best known for her role of Trixie Franklin in the long running TV series Call the Midwife, Helen Geroge is no stranger to musical theatre, having performed in everything from a backing group to Elton John to a Grammy nomination for her contribution to the cast recording of Cinderella. An elegant Anna, she makes the most of the vocal opportunities that come her way in I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You, Hello Young Lovers and the delightful Shall We Dance.

Helen may have only finished sixth when partnered by Aljaz Skorjanec, in Strictly Come Dancing, but she was a real winner when she teamed up with Darren Lee’s intense King in Shall we Dance. He handled the difficult and violent change from benevolent forward-thinking monarch to tyrannical bully when faced with the slave girl Tuptim’s betrayal in the style of someone used to carrying authority.

There was a lovely vulnerability in Marienella Phillips playing and singing of Tuptim. As convincing when risking all to be with her lover, Dean John-Wilson’s dashing Lun Tha, as she was joining him in I Have Dreamed.

A match for everyone vocally, Something Wonderful sung with deep sincerity, and dramatically even when faced with Kok-Hwa Lie’s plotting Kralahome, was Cezarah Bonner’s posed head wife Lady Thiang.

Choreographer Christopher Gattelli greedily took his one chance to shine in a show that features voices rather than movement with his interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, known here as The Small House of Uncle Thomas.

By necessity, with a production that is touring to the four corners of Grear Britain and a trip to Ireland, there were fewer Siamese children and mothers on view, which robbed the guaranteed show-stopper The March of the Royal Siamese Children of some of its usual ‘Ah’ effect. For the same reasons Michael Yeargan’s sets were practical rather than spectacular.

You can catch up with Bartlett Sher’s production at the New Theatre Cardiff,  from 25th to 29th April, and at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre from 13th to 17th June.




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