Everything about this production yells spectacle. From the opening Rank-style gong to the closing image shrinking cinematically to a pinpoint, we’re in grand-scale, filmic territory complete with screen projections, giant sets and lavish costumes.
Director Paul Kerryson makes fabulous use of all Curve’s opportunities, filling the enormous stage with thronging crowds, vast golden Buddhas and more satin than Graham Norton’s wardrobe. His clever exploitation of wonderful theatrical devices and every last inch of the space makes for a visual feast that begins before the overture has even sounded a note and lasts until the final dramatic curtain.
Designer Sara Perks has pulled out all the stops, beautifully aided by lighting (Philip Gladwell) and some crystal-clear sound (Ben Harrison), all of which contributes in a major way to the stunning success of the show.
If I tell you that everything from an elephant to fireworks is somehow evoked on the versatile and imaginative set, you’ll start to get some idea of the creativity at work.
On stage, Janie Dee – despite fighting a cold – puts in a charming and feisty performance as the governess Anna, who turns up in 1862 Siam to tutor some of the King’s 67 children. Opposite her, an eccentric but likeable Chook Sibtain reinvents the Yul Brynner role with a mixture of hair extensions and vocal mannerisms.
Some of the supporting characters are beautifully drawn, too, with Claire-Marie Hall particularly sensitive as the love-lorn Tup-Tim and Maya Sapone strong and resilient as chief wife Lady Thiang.
The sizeable chorus of kids are well drilled and delightful to watch, while the sometimes tedious second-act ballet of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lesser-loved work is brought magically to life by a corps of superb, acrobatic dancers and tumblers.
And most notable of all, there’s a fantastic nine-piece band on stage throughout, brilliantly tight and lush under the baton of Julian Kelly, to hold the whole spectacular show together perfectly.
It may not be a traditionally festive choice, but The King And I is definitely in the royal class of Christmas shows.
- Michael Davies