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The King And I

Published 15 June 2009

Siamese opulence quite literally floods the Royal Albert Hall for this new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King And I.

Performed in the round, the stage even has a moat to depict the misty Bangkok docks which see the arrival of governess Anna Leonowens in the exotic land where she is to be employed teaching the emperor’s many children. Robert Jones’s designs see rich reds and golds meld to create palacial luxury as the story expands to fill the famous venue.

The production sees Laurence Olivier Award-winner Maria Friedman making one of her rare sojourns back into the world of musical theatre, the role of Anna in this classic musical, staged in such a historical venue, seemingly too good to turn down. As the independent woman who stands up for her rights in a country where women are barely more important than slaves, she is as wholesome and heartening as hot apple crumble in winter, her consonants crisp and her heart true and open.

Opposite her Daniel Dae Kim, best known for starring in hit American drama Lost, knows exactly where he is on the stage. He is a prowling, scowling King of Siam, strong and insistent with an unbreakable dignity, though any thoughts of savagery dissipate early on through the affection he shows to myriad offspring.

The problem with a space as large as the Albert Hall is that, though it gives Jeremy Sams the room for glorious design and directorial flourishes, some intimate scenes can feel lost, though Friedman and Dae Kim do their best to fill the cavernous venue with their feisty chemistry. The open space of the stage comes into its own in the second half, though, when the visiting British dignitary is entertained by a huge cast of performers.

Of course, there is also the treat of having the show’s much-loved music performed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, which lies hidden behind a screen at the back of the palace, another luxury for the magnificent setting of this lavish production.

MA

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