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  • Writer's pictureNeill Kovacic-Clarke


🎭 The King & I

📍 The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR

🗓 Tuesday 19th September 2023



Last night I was back at the Theatre Royal Plymouth where I had been invited to review the touring production of The King & I which is playing on The Lyric stage all this week and today I'm still whistling a happy tune thinking about this spectacular musical.

One thing I was anxious about beforehand is that the show would feel dated, but nothing could be further from the truth. Classic yes, but old and boring it certainly isn't! This production is wonderous and dazzling from the outset, with a glorious golden curtain adoring the stage as the audience enters.

The story follows Anna Leonowens as she disembarks in Siam to become teacher to the King's many children and follows the relationship between the misogynistic monarch and the 'difficult woman'!

The role of Anna was triumphantly portrayed by Annalene Beechey in a glorious piece of casting. Beechey has a wonderful stage presence and emits a tenderness and warmth across the auditorium in an almost motherly manner. Her divine singing voice is rich and full and is reminiscent of classic musical theatre stars such as Julie Andrews.

The King of Siam was played by Brian Rivera and despite his polygamy and belief that women are more lowly than men, there is something rather endearing and extremely likeable about him. He has strong characterisation and impeccable comedy timing. In fact I was shocked by how funny I found this show. The comical element was indeed an unexpected surprise. Rivera and Beechey were a wonderful duo and are utter masters of their craft as they perfectly balanced comedy, sincerity and emotion throughout.

Even though he has many wives, the King was gifted Tuptim. The tortured Tuptim was elegantly brought to life by Marienella Phillips who competently portrayed the internal struggles of the character. Her glorious singing voice was operatic in style and she shone while performing My Lord and Master. Her relationship with lover Lun Tha was beautiful to watch and alongside Dean John-Wilson their love affair was played with complete sincerity right up to its tragic conclusion. John-Wilson had a great tone to his voice which harmonised with sheer wonder with Phillips.

There was not a single weak link within the production and it was glorious to see such a large ensemble, who were really given the chance to shine during The Small House of Uncle Thomas, which was a show within the show! Although impressive, at approximately 15 minutes long I did feel that this piece dragged on a little too long. This does seem to be a trait of a Rodgers & Hammerstein show and is reminiscent of the dream sequence in Oklahoma!

Other performers who stood out for me were Cezarah Bonner as 'head wife' Lady Thiang and Caleb Lagayan as heir to the throne Prince Chulalongkorn. Both were elegant and gave confident performances.

The children in this performance were exceptional and utterly professional. Led by Charlie McGuire as Louis Leonowens, the production also included an ensemble of young performers who portrayed the Royal Children.

The direction by Bartlett Sher and choreography by Christopher Gattelli help to make this production grand as do the costumes by Catherine Zuber and the set by Michael Yeargan. It was notable that at times I wanted a little more from the sets as on occasion they were a little less impressive and some of the set changes, although behind a curtain, were loud and seemed rather clunky.

The lighting design by Donald Holder was glorious and the sound by Scott Lehrer ensured that everything sounded clear and full throughout, something a lot of productions seem to struggle with lately! There was a show stoppage right at the start of Act 2 due to technical difficulties but this was dealt with promptly and professionally and did not impede my enjoyment of the performance.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this production of The King and I which, despite its age, felt fresh and has a wide reaching appeal. Filled with pleasing and recognisable songs such as Getting To Know You, Shall We Dance? and I Whistle a Happy Tune this production does not disappoint. The story is easy to follow which makes it a great show for all ages and it is visually stunning.

The King & I continues performances ar Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 23rd September. There are limited seats available for all performances so hurry along to and grab yours before it's too late.

Neill Kovacic-Clarke

All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence.

My ticket for this performance of The King & I was gifted by Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to watch the show in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the star rating given or the content of my review.


Annalene Beechey as Anna Leonowens; Brian Rivera as King of Siam; Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang; Caleb Lagayan as Prince Chulalongkorn; Marienella Phillips as Tuptim; Dean John-Wilson as Lun Tha; Sam Jenkins-Shaw as Captain Orton / Sir Edward Ramsay; Sam Yo as Kralahome; Charlie McGuire as Louis Leonowens; Rachel Wang-Hei Lau as Eliza / Ensemble; Jason Yang-Westland as Angel / George / Ensemble; Qinwen Xue as Simon of Legree / Ensemble; Yuki Ozeki as Little Eva / Ensemble; Chi Chan as Phra Alack / Ensemble; Cher Nicolette Ho as Topsey / Ensemble; Hiromi Toyooka as Uncle Thomas / Ensemble; Jeffrey Chekai as Ensemble; Emmanuel Duarte as Ensemble; Emily Grace-Ling as Ensemble; Samuel How as Ensemble; Daniel Len as Ensemble; Candy Ma as Ensemble; Rachel MacDougall as Ensemble; Amelia Kinu Muus as Ensemble; Rachel Jayne Picar as Ensemble; Jasmine Triadi as Ensemble; Jensen Tudtud as Ensemble; Prem Rai as Onstage Swing; Ria Tanaka as Onstage Swing

RUNNING TIME (approx):

2 hours 55 minutes, including interval


Contains flashing lights, haze and loud music / noise

The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the largest and most attended regional producing theatre in the country. Their mission is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue offers three performance spaces of various sizes, the largest being The Lyric which accommodates the big touring productions. The Drum and The Lab are smaller, intimate spaces and often offer pioneering productions and I have personally seen some excellent productions in these spaces.


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