Helen George and Darren Lee bring all the old school delights of The King and I to the Dominion Theatre
“I do not like polygamy or even moderate bigamy
I realize that in your eyes that clearly makes a prig o’ me!”
Bartlett Sher’s production of The King and I played the West End a good few years ago now, complete with the luscious Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe and as one of the all-time classic Golden Age musicals, feels like a bit of a no-brainer to send out on tour. And so for the last 12 months or so, this Rodgers and Hammerstein stalwart has been doing the business across the UK and Ireland with Helen George (and then Annalene Beechey) and Darren Lee in the lead roles, ending up now with a limited West End season at the Dominion.
Whilst fully acknowledging that it is indeed from another age, given that it premiered in 1951, there’s no doubting that much of the show’s exploration of colonialism in South East Asia, the tension between modernity and tradition in a globalising world and of course, gender equality across different cultures, still has the power to resonate strongly. And with some adroit touches (a reinstated song here, a beefed-up role there), Sher’s direction makes the case for the continuation of this classic, albeit couched in meaningful cultural awareness.
Michael Yeargan’s economical sets suggesting palatial splendour rather than going all-out; Christopher Gattelli’s choreography pulls as much from regional influences as from Jerome Robbins’ original work; and Oscar Hammerstein II’s book really does do a canny job in creating thoughtful responses to the questions being raised here about the presumed benefits of Western influence. To be sure, it’s still absolutely of its time but presented in this way, I’m inclined to be much more forgiving about the whole shebang, particularly given the lushness of the score.
Call the Midwife star George summons something of Julie Andrews’ no-nonsenseness as Anna Leonowens, the widowed governess employed by Darren Lee’s sternly charismatic King of Siam to teach his children. Theirs is a delightful chemistry, a slow-burning warmth to their scenes that is just lovely; Cezarah Bonner’s gorgeously-voiced Lady Thiang is excellent; and there’s real power to Marienella Phillips and Dean John-Wilson’s work as forbidden lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha, their ‘I Have Dreamed’ simply soars off the stage.