The King and I
This stylish production of the musical classic can't disguise the script's patronising tone
Like most of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s quintet of hit musicals, the deceptively light surface action in The King and I struggles to keep the lid on the problematic themes rumbling away underneath. Where the culture clash between prim, feisty governess Anna Leonowens and the powerful but ignorant King of Siam must have seemed awfully funny in the 1950s, Anna’s attempts to ‘civilise’ the King and his court with Victorian values now comes across as witheringly patronising.
At least this stylish production, by Leicester’s Curve Theatre, makes a stab at rejuvenating the story with its spare, impressionistic set and ingenious use of shadow puppetry. Paul Kerryson’s production also features some lively set pieces, in particular the royal court’s play-within-a-play, The Small House of Uncle Thomas. While some of the dramatic two-handers feel rather static and subdued, particularly on such a vast stage, there are compensations among the performances. Maya Sapone as Lady Thiang gives a lovely rendition of ‘Something Wonderful’; Ramon Tikaram does a nice mix of humour, innocence and petulance as the King, while Josefina Gabrielle is warm and spirited while largely eschewing saccharine sentimentality in her role as Anna.
Edinburgh Festival Theatre, until Sat 7 Jan.