Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Magic amid the splendours of Siam

The King and I

The Arcadians

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


So you're thinking about taking in a show this week? Stop thinking. Look no further. This is a sparkling cracker. 

We see Kris Evans as the Kralahome early on and he stamps his mark with an amusing earnestness that should remove any lingering doubts about whether this is the best place to spend 2½ hours when so many other attractions are on offer.  

There is eye-catching scenery. There are splendid, sparkling costumes. And most of all, there is a company that delivers Quality with a capital Q. 

It is a show that is not often seen on the amateur circuit – possibly because groups instinctively feel that their King must echo the shiny-pated image of Yul Brynner. It does not seem to occur to them that, superb though this was, it does not have to be the immutable template of every King, 54 years later. 

Full marks, therefore, to The Arcadians for breaking the mould. David Francis Williams is their King – and he is a hirsute head of state who loses no authority, glamour or pigheadedness by virtue of having a reason to use a comb. This is a splendid portrayal, embodying pride, pugnacity and, of course, puzzlement – all wrapped up in a voice that is a pleasure to listen to, both when it speaks and when it sings. 

Ann-Louise McGregor is Anna, the governess who enters his life by upsetting the regal apple-cart – a governess to whom I warmed after a brief early uncertainty; a governess who breathes British Middle Class as that delightful scrum of beautifully-mannered children falls unstoppably in love with her. She, too, has an excellent voice, and she uses it to fine effect, with particularly memorable purpose in Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?, delivered as a soliloquy of irresistible passion in her bedroom – a scene in which Rosemary Stacey (Lady Thiang) also demonstrates a fine control of vocal cords that threaten to rivet you where you sit. 

Indeed, Peter Haden's production is well-blessed with voices. Roger Inigo (Lun Tha) gives every impression of having had his voice trained. It is warm, it is linked with excellent breath control and its words are clear. He and  Laura Martinus (Tuptim) excel in their duets – We Kiss in a Shadow and I Have Dreamed – as she, too, displays a lovely tone.  

Chris Hinton gives brief but reliable support as  Sir Edward Ramsay, monocled diplomat and admirer of Anna.

Inevitably, this is a show that relies heavily on young people because the King has dozens of children. Here, the youngsters display individual characters without once threatening to overplay them and become an irritation. Often, there are moments of sheer delight. 

At their head is Aron Bourke, as the earnest young Prince, destined to be his father's successor. The story brings him opposite Anna's son, Louis (Dylan Hartnell). They both do well in portraying the clash of cultures that turns out all right in the end. 

There is a delightfully innocent ballet scene in which some excellent masks are deployed, and there's a chorus that tackles its challenges head-on. 

The show has many amusing moments but this is a production that also has a depth of purpose in its handling of the moments of tender sadness at the end. And it is good to see that David Francis Williams keeps the King in unsmiling character right through the curtain call: this was not the time to be told that we can now stop suspending our disbelief. 

Musical direction for a magical evening is by Lauren Coles and choreography by Clare Fray. To 23-10-10.

John Slim

Box office: or see tel: 0121 643 5858 (Crescent) 

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate