A case of Siamese wins

Shall we dance: Josefina Gabrielle as Miss Anna leads the King of Siam, Ramon Tikaram, in a merry dance. Pictures: Catherine Ashmore

The King and I

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

LOOSELY based on the memoires of  Anna Leonowen's, The King and I traces the culture clashing relationship between a prim and proper British teacher  and the bombastic King of Siam whose 70 plus children she has been hired to educate.

Given the Rodgers and Hammerstein treatment, this rather charming tale is littered with a host of songs that have become classics over the years.  That, coupled with the huge success of the movie, has ensured its popularity with audiences to this day.

The story, like most good yarns, is a simple one. Miss Anna, (Josefina Gabrielle)  a nice, voluminously dressed and well meaning lady from  Wales (though it must have been a particularly posh part of The Principality given her clipped tones) arrives in Siam with her son.(Alex Dingley ).

She has been hired by the reigning King (Ramon Tikaram ) to teach his brood of offspring. Given such a huge desire to create so many children, it's a miracle he has time to run the country - but run it he does, and with some pride and panache.   

The two worlds  inevitably collide and it's this difference in culture and language  which provides the backbone of the humour.

Designer Sara Perks's set, framed by two giant Buddhas, is simple but effective. Particularly pleasing on the eye are the flown in multi-coloured paper lanterns, giving just the right atmosphere against the dark surroundings.

 The Orchestra, placed at the back of the stage, become a human backdrop which works rather well.

Former National Ballet of Portugal soloist and now West End star  Josefina Gabrielle as Anna

Performances are mostly solid. Ramon Tikaram makes his  King brusque but approachable - a lion with a sensitive side. Nice six-pack too  - must be all that indoor activity.  

Josefina Gabrielle brings a modern edge to Miss Anna  - a feminist way before feminism was invented. Claire-Marie Hall brings impressive pathos as Tup -Tim and Alex Dingley avoids stage school over acting in a measured and ‘real' performance as Louis. The Children, whose entrance when being introduced to Miss Anna is one of those classic musical moments, are suitably cute.

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, it must be near impossible to find a brood of Siamese children in Birmingham, Plymouth or indeed any of the towns on this tour. Consequently, what we see is a bit of a Bash Street Kids assortment of little ones. No matter though - its amazing what make up and scraped back hair can do!

At times, more so in Act 1, it felt a little slow and the pace seemed to drop a little.  That said, when it worked it came alive and those truly memorable songs were delivered beautifully.

The King and I, directed by Paul Kerryson, runs to 05-05-12

Tom Roberts

Meanwhile from the back of the palace . . .

*****

TICKETS are flying out for this beautiful Rodgers & Hammerstein musical which was a great film and is proving just as successful as a touring stage show.

It's two-and-a-half hour long, but grips the attention of the audience from start to finish with a heart-warming story, dramatic scenery, sumptuous costumes and beautiful music.

Two giant gold Buddahs and gong dominate the sets, and a clever use of silhouette figures adds to the realistic atmosphere in the palace of the King of Siam who recruits a British governess to teach his army of cute children as part of a drive to modernise his country.

Former EastEnder Ramon Tikaram is convincing as the strong-willed ruler who finds the suggestion of one man for one woman foreign to his way of thinking as he parades many attractive wives.

He insists no-one's head must be higher than his, which proves a little difficult for Josefina Gabrielle, playing Anna, as she is taller than the King. However, she is a delight as the teacher who, despite many clashes with her royal employer, develops an increasing attraction for him, and there is a very touching finale scene when Anna is called to the dying king.

An outstanding performance, too, from Maya Sapone (Lady Thiang), and the children in the cast are skilled in royal behaviour, particularly in the March of the Siamese Children. Memorable songs include Shall We Dance, I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You and Hello Young Lovers.

The excellent orchestra is unobtrusively tucked away at the rear of the stage for this lovely show directed by Paul Kerryson. It runs to 05-05-12.

Paul Marston

Home  Hippodrome  Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre