The King and I
Paul Johnson | 11 Apr 2014 13:06pm
National Operatic & Dramatic Association – London Region
Having failed to create interest from Rex Harrison, Noel Coward and Alfred Drake, a virtually unknown actor, Yul Bryyner, was cast as King Mongkut in the 1951 production of The King and I. It ran for 1246 performances in New York and two years later opened in London where it played for 926 performances. It was brought to the screen in 1956. Since then it has been revived many times over the years, professionally, with Yul Bryyner who performed the role 4625 times. The part has been played by a variety of other actors, but the role will always be associated with Bryyner. It has been reasonably popular with amateur companies, and this latest production was a wonderful addition to the list of performances given.
The lively overture was extremely well played by the orchestra under the firm baton of its conductor, Clive Swan, who kept tight control of the music and whose support of principals and chorus was excellent. The first scene in front of a cloth depicting Bangkok as seen from the deck of a ship created the right atmosphere and brought on Anna and her son Louis followed by the ship’s Captain Orton, well played by Stuart Dashwood. Anna is obviously anxious and to allay her fears she tells her son that in those circumstances she whistles. Louis then joins her in the delightful ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’, and all seems well.
As with most musicals, the success or failure often depends mainly upon the performances of its main principals as well as the overall performances of the rest of the cast. In ‘The King and I’, Anna and The King have to have a great rapport and in this case we saw two great performances. Zena Wigram’s Anna was amongst the very best I have seen. Her interpretation of the role was perfect in every way. She showed so much emotion at the end of the show that it heightened the tragedy of the scene. Her diction was perfect as was her singing. There was no problem in understanding both her dialogue and the words of her songs. She kept well in character throughout and was a joy to both watch and hear. Kevin Murray’s as King Mongkut was an absolute tour de force – he dominated every scene he was in with the strength and power he showed in his performance. The influence of Anna and her ‘European’ ways were slowly changing him and his behaviour towards his people. Kevin showed the struggle he had from within himself that eventually would lead to his death. The scenes between Anna and The King were charismatic and the ‘Shall We Dance’ duet and dance started to show how he was changing and how there was more than just a teacher and ‘employer’ relationship between them. Kevin’s accent and clipped way of speaking with the constant repetition of words was very good and showed a great deal of unexpected humour. Another excellent performance was given by Sue Reynolds as Lady Thiang the ‘chief’ wife of the King. Her solo, ‘Something Wonderful’, was sung with such great feeling that, to me, it was one of the highlights in this production. Sue acted throughout with great dignity and her command of the role was excellent.
The two young lovers Tuptim and Lun Tha were played by Florence Claringbold and Matt Fowler. Tuptin had been brought as a present from the King of Burma to be a ‘junior wife’ to Mongkut. She had been accompanied in her journey by Lun Tha, a Burmese envoy. Florence’s solo ‘My Lord and Master’ was wistfully sung as one is made to believe she is really referring to her lover, Lun Tha. The two duets ‘We Kiss in a Shadow’ and ‘I Have Dreamed’ seem to have been sung with little emotion. They both did not really show how deep their feelings were for each other, although I must say that Florence came into her own with the play, ‘Small House of Uncle Thomas’, that she had ‘adapted’ from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. As narrator, she was very good and it was obvious the story was more than a hint of how she felt the King of Siam was treating her, much to the annoyance of the King. Florence does have a pretty voice but she must watch her intonation particularly in her upper register. Lun Tha is not an easy part to play. He can be overshadowed by strong performances from other principals and so he has to make an impact in his acting and especially in the duets with Tuptim. I really do not think Matt made enough of his performance. His dialogue seemed to have had little expression and he lacked emotion….
The parts of Louis and Prince Chulalongkorn, eldest son of the King, were double cast as were the Siamese Children, and in Friday night’s performance Louis was played by Ryan Wiggins and the Prince by Louis Kelly. Ryan was quite delightful and played his part extremely well, joining in with his ‘mother’ in the opening song and becoming involved with the Siamese children when Anna was teaching them. Louis Kelly was a very serious Prince, knowing full well that when the time came he would become King. He had already made up his mind to change various traditions and bring his country ‘up-to-date’. They joined together in a reprise of the King’s soliloquy ‘A Puzzlement’ with the Prince imitating some of his father’s actions. Two very good performances.
As the King’s Prime Minister, The Kralahome, accompanied by an Interpreter had been sent to meet and greet Anna and her son on their arrival in Siam and to conduct them to the palace. Philip Gibbs was a very dour Kralahome whilst the Interpreter’s, Michael Gibbs’, translations were of little use as The Prime Minister could speak English extremely well. Philip appeared throughout the musical and saw that the King’s commands were carried out although he wasn’t too happy about the changes that were taking place. David Rees was well cast as the diplomat, Sir Edward Ramsey, sent by the British to ascertain whether the King was indeed the barbarian the British thought he was. Having known Anna previously, their meeting led to the joyous ‘Shall We Dance’, Anna showing the King how to polka. Lucy Chamberlain played Princess Ying Yaowlak, second only to Lady Thiang. More about her a little later.
Having covered the ‘speaking’ principals, I have to say the performances of the Children (all twelve of them) were absolutely magnificent. They had been taught very well and their dancing, singing, involvement in the story and their concentration from the youngest up was great to behold. I think they too should be mentioned by name in this report: Alex Hart, Christina Dumitriu Jackson, Davina Gill, Emily Frost, Eve Kelly, Imogen Frost, Imogen Jones, Katie La-Plain, Nicole Levene, Sarah Marsh, Siobhan Russell and Thomas Wilkins.
There was indeed some wonderful choreography throughout. In the first instance, during ‘Getting to Know You’ there was a charming solo ‘Fan dance’ by Katy Jane Meehan who also performed in the Ballet ‘Small House of Uncle Thomas’. This ballet was an amazing, well thought out sequence featuring some wonderful dancing particularly by the young fourteen year old Lucy Chamberlain as Eliza. It was hard to believe she was that young as her dancing was so mature and far beyond her years, it was a joy to watch and no doubt she will have a great future as a dancer. Others in the ‘cast’ all of whom were excellent were; Katy Jane Meehan as Angel/George; Nicola Wallbank, Uncle Thomas; Hayley Ransome, Topsey; Anna Statt, Little Eva; Michael Dykes, Simon of Legree and an ensemble of dancers from Chrystel Arts Theatre School.
Bill Cody played Phra Alack, a servant to the King. There was not a chorus as such, but various wives and guards, the wives playing an important part in the Westernization of Siam by being taught by Anna the ways of the West.
There was a simple but effective set with steps leading up to arches where there were muslim (?) drapes that were lowered between the arches, giving the impression of different rooms in the palace. The stage was left with little ‘furniture’ other than a couple of small tables on each side of the central steps that were changed to two small ‘china’ (?) elephants, denoting the change to the ballroom in the Palace. The Director had done a splendid job in making sure the pace was right, there were no hiccups, everyone on stage knew what they were supposed to do, and did it. Ian Parrott is to be congratulated in presenting to us a first class musical with a first class cast. I’ve already mentioned the wonderful choreography and all credit must go to Rachel Permutt. She made sure all the moves she had given to the company were carried out, and her attention to detail was first-rate. The work she had done with the Children deserves the greatest praise. Clive Swann was an excellent Conductor; Chorus Master, Steve Lethbridge’s work with the chorus paid off; John Saxon Jones, Production Manager; Stage Manager Chris Firth, his DSM Christine Morris together with the crew made certain all went well; the Set was built by Bruce Marshall; Lighting, Iain Maclean, Martin Hartley, Richard Day and Peter Thomas; Sound, James Wakerell. Costumes were in period and ‘Siamese’ and everyone involved with this production helped in its success.
Finally thank you Ian Parrott and Tony Austin for looking after Sylvia and myself and for having invited us to a splendid evenings entertainment.
- : admin
- : 04/04/2014