Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The King and I

NETworks Presentations International , New Theatre Cardiff , November-18-05
The nineteenth century Buddhist King of Siam is about to whip the bare back of a young Burmese girl, who he has received as a present from his monarch neighbour, for trying to elope with her young lover. He is stopped by the constraints of his English School Governess and the onset of a heart problem. It seems that nothing, if I have heard him aright, will stop the next 21st century, potential Republican candidate for president of the USA continuing to advocate torture as a legitimate tool to use in conflict.

On stage we have an exquisite re-enactment of a story of young black woman fleeing from slavery. As I write a young man is on trial in Cardiff for allegedly buying a young woman from Lithuania and putting her to work on the streets in the city. We see almost irreconcilable cultural differences as a major threat to world stability. Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is by no means a big old fashioned slushy escapist musical, well it may be all of that but it is also a compelling and challenging story revealing the strengths and weaknesses of human beings and of course the power of love, and we can’t have toO much of that.

What this particular production of this great show also is, is a perfect, highly watchable example of the art of theatre presentation offering the audience a thrilling spectacular, highly intelligent amusement with a gritty story and a chance to wallow in the nostalgia of some fantastic and eternal melodies.

The creative team of director Stephen Rayne, Choreographer Jerome Robbins and Musical director Laurie Perkins along with set and costume designers Brian Thomson and Roger Kirk are clearly all perfect masters of their craft. There is not a single element in this production that is not precisely placed. The music will wash around you, the lighting is spot on, the demanding choreography faultlessly executed. There is an understanding and a precision about this production that is seldom seen in Wales. No one could fail to have a wonderful time watching this show and any one with aspirations to stage their own theatre production, however experienced will learn great lessons by just being there.

Whilst it is rich in good old traditional theatrical values it is also very much of its time. The cast as a joyous ensemble and as individuals are all completely captivating and delightful. As Anna Elizabeth Renihan invests the role with some delicious humour as well as crystal clear singing and subtle characterisation. She has an ideal sparring partner in Kevin Gray’s ‘big-kid’ King and we rejoice at their developing relationship as the cultural barriers begin to fall and they finally dance a triumphant polka. The young lovers kissing in the shadow, played and sung with near perfection by Phong Truong and Yanle Zhong are a feast of innocence. And the children are of course a joy and the discipline and conviction they bring to their performances is truly remarkable.

Network Presentations is a company that takes its work very seriously. Rogers and Hammerstein, the trailblazers of the ‘modern’ musicals, have been well served. This is a great production of a great work confirming Hammerstein’s words “I am convinced that this is our best work. I have a humble feeling of not knowing how we did it. It has more wisdom as well as heart than any musical play by anybody. It will remain ‘modern’ long after any of our other plays.”

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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