Review: The King and I at the Palace Theatre

Review: The King and I at the Palace Theatre

The all-time classic musical The King and I, winner of four Tony Awards, is pretty much guaranteed to wow audiences everywhere, and Manchester is no exception. But will the story live up to the spectacle?

After a somewhat slow first half, you could be forgiven for still debating this, but the second half leaves you in no doubt. The show, like the relationship between Anna and the King, grows on you slowly yet surely.

Based on the novel, Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon, and set in what is now Thailand, in the 1860s, it was always going to be a challenge for Bartlett Sher to modernise the production convincingly. But why would that even be necessary?

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West End stars Annalene Beechey, as British schoolteacher Anna, sent to teach the King of Siam’s wives and children, and Darren Lee, as the King, are perfectly cast as the employer and employee warring with, yet simultaneously warming to one another, in spite of themselves.

The King and I at the Palace Theatre

Lee is delightfully comical as the grossly entitled yet somehow still not unlikeable king, his facial expressions larger than life as he reacts to the British teacher’s strange yet ‘scientific’ ways.

Beechey meanwhile plays Anna with just the right mix of primness and playfulness.

Yes, there are huge stereotypes throughout – of women, men and, most notably, Easterners versus Westerners, with the story’s main theme appearing to be Westerners patronising the Eastern peoples of the world and ‘teaching’ them how to behave correctly.

The King and I at the Palace Theatre

Dig a little deeper though and it is evident that both cultures learn from and make fun of each other. “To prove we are not barbarians, they make us dress like savages!” the king’s wives scream with laughter as they try to negotiate the gargantuan skirted Victorian dresses famously worn by Deborah Kerr in the 1956 film.

The costumes are simply exquisite, from sumptuous coloured silks and satins to sparkling gold headpieces, adding more than a sprinkle of magic to the show.

The King and I at the Palace Theatre

The choreography too, by Christopher Gattelli and Jerome Robbins, is outstanding, with its intricate combination of classical Thai and popular dance moves as tightly executed as the grandest of dance sequences on the big screen.

And then of course there’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music – that irresistibly uplifting score, featuring classics such as Shall We Dance, Getting To Know You and Whistle A Happy Tune.

Add a pinch of cuteness in the form of the king’s many children and spirited performances from the entire cast and you have the ingredients for a perfect musical.

This production is a feast for both the eyes and the soul. It’s beautiful, moving and funny – fit, indeed, for a King.

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