Uplifting performance fit for a King

The King and I ***King's Theatre

GLITTERING, uplifting and poignant in all the right places, this production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's great musical, The King and I, from local amateur company Southern Light is a thoroughly satisfying one.

There is real strength to the performances right through the company.

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Not just the principals and the secondary characters but the orchestra, the chorus and, in particular, the young chorus members are all spot on.

The overall result does have a few slightly threadbare patches but, by focussing on the key turning points of the story of Mrs Anna, the Victorian governess who goes out to Siam to tutor the King's many children, director Andy Johnston more than makes up for them.

The two main principals – Dorothy Johnstone as Mrs Anna and Kevin Reed as the King – put in worthy performances without stealing the show. While Johnstone is a bit static and doesn't make the nuances of her character obvious, her voice is clear, lively and subtle when needed.

Conversely, Reed has clearly not been cast for his singing voice. He does, however, carry off the role of an all powerful king very well.

His interpretation is key to the production's success. Instead of taking the cheap route of poking fun at quaint foreigners, it portrays a man attempting to pass power on to his heir while moving his country into the modern world.

All of which does mean that Shall We Dance, the big set piece where Anna and the King finally begin to acknowledge their mutual attraction, passes by at a bit of a gallop. It's not unsatisfactory, just not hugely memorable.

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Much more fully realised is Getting to Know You, when Anna is in the classroom with all her many, many charges. From a static opening, Louise Williamson's choreography builds as the song builds. By its end, Anna is surrounded by the children and chorus all swaying back and forth in a quite sumptuous scene to behold. The secondary characters come up trumps. Kirsten Raeburn, as Tuptim, the "gift" to the King from the king of Burma, and Alan Gow as her secret lover, Lun Tha, are excellent. Raeburn's voice could do with a bit more drama, but there is no doubting its power or her ability to hit all the high notes dead on. Gow brings a nicely accentuated feel to their big duet, We Kiss in a Shadow.

Vital to any successful production of the Kind and I is the version of Uncle Tom's Cabin which the King's children stage for the British ambassador. This one is excellently done, finding a good balance between exquisitely executed oriental ballet and the story of the emancipated slaves. It is in the finale that the company really demonstrate that they have the measure of the show. The moment when Kit Mackenzie's Prince Chululongkorn performs his first act of state-craft as his father lies dying is one to bring a tear to any eye. Top drawer stuff.

Run ends Saturday