Regarded as one of the classic musicals of all time, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is a much loved show, both for its on stage productions and the multi-Oscar winning film starring Yul Brynner.
This latest production takes a very traditional approach to its staging, and with no attempt to modernise the potentially troubling storyline to modern sensitivities – we open with an overture, and the people of Bangkok speak a pidgin English throughout.
The greatest shame though is that there is such little character development throughout the show. Darren Lee’s King and (on opening night) Maria Coyne’s Anna don’t have much opportunity to grow their relationship, which is predominantly the fault of the book and staging rather than any slight on their perfectly competent performances.
Similarly the furtive relationship between Tuptim (Marienella Phillips) and Lun Tha (Dean John-Wilson) is done and dusted before we have any chance to become invested in it. The blocking of their main encounter is particularly awkward, with them hidden by set designer Michael Yeargan’s trailing flowers. The set’s columns also get in the way at other points, with following spots unable to track as characters disappear behind them.
The main highpoint is the play within the play, which is beautifully choreographed and delicately performed, especially by Rachel Wang-Hei Lau as Eliza. If only the attention to detail evident here was applied to the rest of the performance this would be a masterful production.
For fans looking for a chance to see a musical classic that is now less frequently performed this will bring some familiar, comfortable, and enjoyable entertainment. For those looking without the rose-tinted glasses – at the risk of lese-majesty – I’d suggest turning your attentions elsewhere.
- The King and I continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, November 18, 2023