Celebrating their 25th anniversary in style, Aberdeen’s Phoenix Theatre, plus talented youth members, transport us to the opulent setting of 1860s Bangkok, with their charming production of The King and I. His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen is crowded, the chatter-level high, as we wait for the amateur production company to begin.
Based on the original novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, itself based on the diaries of real life Anna Leonowens, an English governess employed by King Mongkut of Siam to teach his very many children and concubines, The King and I boasts a star-studded history, having been turned into both a hugely successful feature film and long running Broadway musical hit. So how does Aberdeen’s Phoenix Theatre treat such a well-known family favourite?
The short answer is with a sense of fun. Anna, played by Lindsey Cornwell, owns the stage with her captivating solo performances. Whilst Colin Campbell delights as the King of Siam, delivering his witty dialogue in such a manner as to set the tone for the evening, allowing the audience to settle in for some gentle verbal sparring between himself and the new governess.
The stage comes alight with the shuffling, deferential entrance of the King’s vast household. His wives are as colourful as a flock of parakeets, clad in traditional vibrant Siamese dress, whilst the bare footed royal children are careful not to put a foot wrong.
Early in the second half, the main plotline is suspended whilst we enjoy the performance of The Small House of Uncle Thomas. A spectacular interlude in both costume and dance, during which Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel is transformed into a Siamese ballet.
Throughout, the cast are supported by a wonderful orchestra, directed and conducted by Kevin Haggart. The delightful Richard Rodgers score includes such familiar sing-along favourites as I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance?
The set is simple yet clever. Rich drapes, glittering gold, providing us with the illusion of the sumptuous surroundings of the palace. Such a dazzling production seems a fitting way for this amateur company to celebrate its silver anniversary.