Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A tender observation of ignorance, prejudice and discord

The King and I

Llandaff Musical Society , Cardiff , May 26, 2006
The King and I by Llandaff Musical Society A tender observation of ignorance, prejudice and discord between eastern and western cultures floating in musical water with an essence of love and friendship. This could be a contemporary piece of theatre, commenting on the world’s volatile society today. However, as a sad reflection on our universal instability, this distinctively raw subject is set a worryingly 150 years ago in primitive Siam.

Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I first struck a chord in 1951 hitting Broadway and then becoming an institution with amateur dramatic societies around the world. As an experienced spectator of such productions from my am-dram youth I could almost visualize the performance before it began. With its Christmas cracker costumes and flashy painted scenery Llandaff Musical Society have created a colourful and charming production of this timeless tale of despotism versus democracy. Looking past the theatrical snobbery that can sometimes cloud judgement it is imperative that one does not forget the astounding amount of time and effort that goes into productions of this nature – a highly admirable feature.

Based on a true story Oscar Hammerstein II once said of this musical marvel - “it will remain ‘modern’ long after any of our other plays”. Despite its 19th Century setting the play centres around the tensions and divergence of nations, cultures and gender – characteristics that did not die out with the corset. When the beautiful, spirited Anna arrives in Siam to teach the obstinate Kings children, an equation of dispute, fury and friendship is established and steadily cultivates, resulting in a solicitous and yielding correlation. The exasperating King, whose naivety is exposed as his brash exterior is chipped away was played an astonishing 4,600 times by the illustrious Yul Brynner whose portrayal has lent itself to interpretation ever since. George Yakumi fits snugly into the role, adding a slightly more mischievous edge to this captivating character, whilst the charismatic Anna is portrayed with graceful execution by Julia Kennedy. The chorus of children perform with great energy and discipline, receiving an encouraging response from the audience.

With such stigma attached to amateur theatre, productions of this nature are only going to attract certain audiences, and one has to wonder how long this will continue. However, within their own social vicinity these performances are an institution, that have their own spot on the theatrical menu. Whilst some may cringe and others applaud, for me there is a sense of comfort and nostalgia in these productions – with this endeavour as accomplished as any.

Reviewed by: Amy Stackhouse

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