Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

An excellent and very professional production

The King and I

Aberystwyth Arts Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August 29, 2009
The King and I by Aberystwyth Arts Centre “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” “To begin at the beginning…” despite these lyrical recommendations I am going to start halfway through. Not withstanding the near-flawless first half of this excellent and very professional production by Anthony Williams, it was the second half that really compelled. Marcus Cunningham was well into his engaging stride as the strong and single minded king.

The tension in the story is much higher now. The beautiful love between the lovely young Tuptim (an attractive chattel given as a gift to the King of Siam by the King of Burma for his own delight) and her handsome beau Lun Tha is hurtling towards its doomed ending. Both these roles are exquisitely acted and sung by Jennifer Tanarez and Makakilo Ancheta. They are part of the strong core of International, West End performers that greatly enhance the Aberystwyth stage. Shona Lindsay as Anna adds to the poignancy and the drama with her beautifully sung reprise of Hello, Young Lovers. She maybe getting the King to see things more her way and they both are sheer delight in their invitation: Shall We Dance, and execute a perfect, prancing polka. Sadly it was the King’s last fling. A little later we see him on his death bed. In his last moments Cunningham shows real acting strength. This is reflected in the fine performance of Aberystwyth schoolboy Aled Jones as the new king and a leader of his country into a more civilised and progressive attitude. Williams allowed his play to end realistically, in spite of its sadness, giving us all an up-lifting note of hope in our hearts as we left the theatre.

A very strong point in Anthony William’s choreographic style is the way he allows his dances to grow organically out of the story and they are always a true enhancement to the development of the narrative. His expertise is in bold and delightful evidence in the two notable diversions in this act. First, the opening number, Western People very amusingly led by another perfectly judged performance by Joanne Henry as the loyal Lady Thiang with the company around her making very clever play with their eastern fans. The presentation of the play within a play, The Small House of Uncle Thomas was sheer icing on the cake. The story engagingly told to us by Tuptim whilst behind her exciting dancing, flowing silks and striking lighting on the bright reflective floor dynamically illustrated the simple story.

This was a satisfyingly theatrical production, almost Brechtian. A spacious fairly bare stage, dominated by a huge Statue of the Buddha, splendidly executed by designer Steve Denton. This meant a big demand on the lighting design which was faultlessly met by Iestyn Griffith. Sound design and control was also top quality as was the unseen band under the expert direction of Michael Morwood, the vividly colourful costume design lighting up the stage.

There was a very spectacular opening as a thunderstorm welcomed Mrs Anna’s ship into the Siamese port. The Captain of the Ship and later Sir Edward Ramsey were both given an assured and sensitive performance by National Theatre player Andy Hawthorn. As soon as we set eyes on Shona Lindsay it was clear that not only was she good to look at but she was commandingly at home on the stage and in her role.

The strength of the second act came from its verisimilitude. Although we are in the world of make-believe musical theatre it is important that we are convinced of the truthfulness of all the characters and the relationships between them. There was a need for this to be drawn more clearly right from the first moment. For example the young actor playing Anna’s son Louis spoke well and sung excellently, no weakness in his individual work, but he needed to be given more assurance to enable him to stand strong in his role. Again the ensemble playing wasn’t led to gel too well in the early part of the play but it gained in strength as the story progressed as did the strength of our appreciation.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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