Theatre in Wales

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A masterclass in push-pull acting
Individualised, powerhouse performances

The King and I

on tour , New Theatre Cardiff , November 24, 2005
The King and I by on tour All good partnershipsĖRichard & Judy, say, or Sooty & SweepĖlive and die by their yin-yang bonding of two opposite, yet complementary, halves and this axiom is especially applicable when you look back at the work of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Behemoths of Broadway, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein only collaborated for 17 years but in that time they prolifically co-wrote and co-composed some of the most successful, best-loved musicals ever to hit the stage. Their contribution to musical theatre is so immense itís difficult to tabulate; to put it in perspective, if every well-known, hummable song their musicals spawned were listed here it would take up the entire wordcount. Many of their smashes (Oklahoma! South Pacific and, most famously, The Sound of Music) were given the cinematic treatment to massive all-round acclaim and one of those box-office pullers was The King and I. Entrenched in the culture, itís a canonical musical thatís imprinted in our affections and minds, which makes this current stage tour something of a tall-order proposition if itís going to be an expectation-pleaser.

No-one need panic, though, because from curtain-up the production personifies pro-class. The story orbits the vicissitudes of another famous partnership between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, the governess hired to corral his flock of children, so the casting of the roles is crucial. Kevin Grayís King and Elizabeth Renihanís Anna are pitch-perfect and a masterclass in push-pull acting. The culture-clash between the headstrong, buffoonish Siamese potentate and the proud, buttoned-up English widow is portrayed with considered sleight-of-hand and charismatic chemistry ebbs and flows between the two leads throughout. Significantly, they both manage to achieve the mean feat of avoiding the large-looming filmic spectres of Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr and niche out individualised, powerhouse performances that provide the plotís meat and drink.

The show also disproves the dictum you should never work with children as the kid actors more than give the grown-ups a run for their musical money. In fact, there are no weak links in this high-end, glossy production thatís a guaranteed bums-on-seats winner and is a superlative showcase of the musical theatre medium.

Reviewed by: Jason Jones

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