Paul Kerryson’s productions in Leicester have been causing quite a stir in recent years and it is fantastic that Britain’s regional theatres are producing work that is worthy of national tours (and in the case of Chichester – a number of West End transfers.) The King and I is just one in a long line of Kerryson success stories - not doubt to be followed by Gypsywhich is opening at The Curve this spring.
I wonder, then, why I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the experience.
Some of this might be due to the technical problems which delayed the start of the performance by over thirty minutes – but I think not.
There are many positives – the set is impressively large scale: dominated by two giant gold Buddhas and huge black sliding screens. I was particularly taken by the use of shadowplay at key moments – a lovely touch. The costumes are opulent and elegant – matching the extravagant feel of the set. The lighting sets everything off wonderfully. It is a real feast for the eyes.
On the performance side, there are some lovely voices to be heard. Adrian Li Donni is an ideal Lun Tha – a role very easy to overlook in this piece – his rich voice is the best on stage by far. Josefina Gabrielle makes a lively Anna but her voice does not quite join up through the breaks and so she fails to land the real emotional punches that her key numbers deserve.
Ramon Tikaram makes a good stab of capturing the complexities of the King but fails to deliver vocally – again his technique lets him down (particularly in 'A Puzzlement') and so the music and drama are not fully integrated.
It is, perhaps, this lack of integration that is at the root of my reaction to the production. The small orchestra makes some wonderful sound – revelling in the melodic invention in the score – but the conducting is often self-indulgent and fails to deliver dramatic momentum that the piece needs.
This is not a bad production, far from it. It is, however, not a brilliant one. It entertains but does not quite move you as it should.