Review: The King and I, Bradford Alhambra, 15/05/2012


When? Tuesday 15h May 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Chi Ming Chan, Adam Denman, Lori Haley Fox, Josefina Gabrielle, Claire-Marie Hall, James Hirst, Charlotte Humphrey, Farrah Abigail Hussain, Yuki Ikezawa, Makoto Iso, Aiko Kato, Misa Koide, Adrian Li Donni, Rowan Lewis Mitchell, Elliot Powell, Maya Sapone, Naomi Shimon, Ramon Tikaram, Craig Turbyfield, Kaho Uchida, Gary Wood, Alex Dingley

The Leicester Curve Theatre’s 2010 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical The King and I arrived at the Bradford Alhambra last night, the final date on a successful UK tour. The success story of this particular production is twofold; the show is artistically sound, but the real winner here is the future model of British touring theatre funding. The production is produced and funded by Music and Lyrics Limited, a collaboration between fifteen of the largest and most iconic receiving regional theatres, including the Bradford Alhambra, who each contributed towards the production financially in return for a greater share of the box office. In short, this invested approach should theoretically ensure a higher standard of production for the general theatregoer. With the theatres putting their own money in, the onus becomes on them to ensure they receive value for money in the quality of the final product. In essence, better theatre for the theatregoer, more profit for the theatre.

The King and I is not staged as often as it once was, so it was nice to see Paul Kerryson’s new production attempt to re-ignite interest in this R&H stalwart. Sara Perks’ new designs incorporate two enormous buddha statues covered in gold gilt, an omnipresent downstage gong and generous use of projections. Kerryson introduces many modern elements which surely have never seen light of day in a R&H before; the impressive puppet work (Sue Pycroft) in particular was a lovely touch. On the flip side, some ‘effects’, such as the shoddy attempt at snow (two men with fishing poles and Christmas decorations) were decidedly ropey, even in the context of the ‘play within a play’. The projections appeared out of focus and there were a few technical issues with the set on the night, but I am confident these will be quickly remedied for the remainder of the run.

In the context of this production the cast do a decent enough job. The King (Ramon Tikaram) gives the standout performance of the cast, proving quite amusing for large swathes of the show. His singing was preferable to his dancing, though neither were as noteworthy as his excellent comic timing. Familiar face Josefina Gabrielle gives a decent – if somewhat safe – turn as Anna drawing some laughter, particularly when interacting with the King. Joining the company are children from across Yorkshire as the Princes and Princesses, who naturally drew ‘ahhh’s’ from the warm audience at the curtain call. Resident tour choreographer Gary Wood gets in on the action, making the most of his small – but emotionally involved part. The rest of the cast deliver their lines in a bewildering array of accents, unfortunately rendering some lines inaudible.

The premise of the book of The King and I is fundamentally flawed. The concept of a visiting English teacher (successfully) Westernising an entire culture in order to make the right impression to a visiting English diplomat is indicative of the outdated – and arguably racist – nature of the piece. It would be more tolerable if the comedy stiff-upper-lip Englishman took a few balancing jibes, but when Act II opens with a number titled “Western People Funny”, it really shows just how far musical theatre has come in the last sixty years. For every intelligent, thought-provoking classic musical theatre piece like South Pacific there is a Flower Drum Song. The King and I sits somewhere inbetween – in both terms of quality and contemporary relevance.

Some scenes feel excessively long, such as the introduction of the children which neither progresses the story or entertains the viewer, it simply facilitates the score being played in full. Perhaps Kerryson’s faithful recreation of the original work as written is a touch naive in 2012. The second act R&H staple diversion from the story-in-hand seems to go on forever, and running at almost three hours, The King and I feels an hour too long.

For R&H fans – of which there are many, this is a faithful adaptation with much to enjoy and many new, interesting visual additions to the classic staging. All of the iconic moments remain; “Shall We Dance” and “Getting to Know You” are faithfully re-enacted beat for beat. The King and I can only be treated as a piece of theatrical nostalgia and a decent alternative to watching a classic movie musical at home.

- Harry Zing

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