Shall we dance? On a bright cloud of music shall we fly?

Went to see The King And I last night at the Festival Theatre. I had wanted to go, but didn’t have the cash, and then a friend texted to say he had a spare ticket and I didn’t need to pay till January payday, so I jumped at the chance.

It’s a production by Leicester’s Curve. Mrs Anna is played by Josefina Gabrielle, who apparently has been in lots of stuff but the only thing I recognised was she was Ofelia in the series of Auf Wiedersehn Pet where they went to Cuba. The King of Siam is played by Ramon Tikaram (Tanita’s brother) who has been in loads of stuff, none of which I have seen. Quite a few women said to me “oooh Ramon Tikaram, he’s gorgeous” but he’s nowhere near as hot as Yul Brynner was when he was the King of Siam. No, seriously, he’s really really hawt in that. I remember being very surprised when I first saw it.

Anyhoo, the relative hotness of Kings of Siam aside, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a theatre production more than I enjoyed this. I know the whole thing is full of rampant cultural imperialism and white Western delusions of superiority, but set that aside and just enjoy the show. The songs are great – I’ve been irritating everyone by singing “Getting to Know You” at work all day – particularly irritating because I only know about three lines of it. Shall We Dance is lovely, and I always forget that I Whistle A Happy Tune is from that show; in my head it’s a Disney song, possibly sung by Jiminy Cricket although I know really that’s Give a Little Whistle (and always let your conscience be your guide). The development of the respect and affection between Anna and the King is subtle and touching and the ultimate inevitability of them coming to love each other but never being able to be together is sad. But where this production really excels is its visual beauty. Sets, costumes, lighting et cetera et cetera et cetera were all just gorgeous to look at. Two massive gold Thai Buddha statues dominated the stage, beautiful Thai dresses (they’re not saris and they’re not cheong-sams – I don’t know what they are), wonderful massively hooped dresses for Anna that made me want to put one on and flounce down a staircase somewhere. And the lighting – the most beautiful thing in the whole show was when Burmese present to the King, Tuptim, was having secret meetings with her lover Lun Tha. They did it with beautiful orange and blue paper lanterns hanging from Oriental-looking wooden frames, lowered from the ceiling. The whole thing was so beautifully put together, it was just stunning.

If you like The King and I anyway, or if you just like musicals, then it’s worth seeing for its own sake, but I really think that this is a production that’s worth seeing even if you hate musicals, or plays, or historically racist stories about governesses in the Far East, just because it’s such a beautiful beautiful show.

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