Theatre Review: The King and I - London Palladium ✭✭✭½

The King and I
London Palladium

Review by Caroline Cronin

4th July 2018: Viewing the Rogers & Hammerstein classic The King & I through a 2018 lens is uncomfortable in many ways. 1860’s Siam (Thailand) is depicted as a sexist, unenlightened community, within which Anna, a widower from Britain settles in Siam to take up a job as a schoolteacher to the King’s children. Of course, Anna’s modern, feminist thinking and ballsy attitude affects more than just the children, and she sets in motion a series of events that changes the view of the King, his many, many wives, and the entire community.

The lengthy scene where the children of Siam perform a Siamese-inspired ballet based on ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ feels mildly inappropriate at times, and unnecessarily protracted, but for anyone that’s seen the film, it reflects the original vision accurately. It’s undoubtedly a spectacle, but I’m not sure a modern audience will be able to appreciate its intent when so much of it feels awkwardly racist.

Dated though it feels in its attitudes, timeless it remains. The quality of Bartlett Sher’s production is everything one would expect from a Tony-award-winning Broadway transfer. Catherine Zuber’s costume design is a plethora of sumptuous gorgeousness, and every ounce of tricky choreography is expertly handled, even by the significantly younger members of the cast.

Kelli O'Hara is the ultimate leading lady, with soaring vocals that fill the auditorium with a joyous delight that is hard to ignore. The subtlety of her performance perfectly complements Ken Watanabe’s dramatic King, who is ultimately a petulant child, with a larger-than-life ego that needs constant feeding.

For those searching for more overt romantic overtures, Dean John-Wilson’s Lun Tha and Na-Young Jeon’s Tuptim are a delightful pairing with stunning vocal abilities, and they achieve the tricky job of convincing an audience to deeply root for their love story, despite limited stage time.

The appeal of this production is undeniable, and despite some of the dated content, I defy anyone to feel short-changed when walking out of The Palladium after 2.5 hours of beautifully nuanced performances from a commendably diverse and accomplished cast, children and adults alike.

Photos by Matthew Murphy

Tickets: £15 - £75, Premium Seating available
Box Office: 020 7087 7755
Performances: Monday - Saturday at 7pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2pm and 7pm
Twitter: @KingandIWestEnd
Facebook: @KingandIWestEnd
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