The King And I At Kings Theatre, Glasgow Review


Reviewed by Deb Mackenzie

Based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens ‘The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870)’ chronicling her experiences in Siam (now Thailand) as a teacher to the Siamese King Mongkut. In 1944 Margaret Landon fictionalised Leonowens’ account in a best-selling novel Anna and the King of Siam. Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted the story into a musical ‘The King and I’ in 1951.

The King and I is about a strong willed, outspoken, widowed schoolteacher who accepted an offer to teach a modern western education to Tan Kim Ching’s 39 wives and concubines and many, many children. Anna’s young son Louis was startled and afraid when the ominous Prime Minister met them at the dock to escort them to the palace. Asking his mother if she ever got afraid, she said when feel afraid I whistle (I Whistle a Happy Tune). Anna expecting her contract to be honoured allowing them to live in a separate house. This wasn’t to be, and they were almost ‘prisoners’ in the palace.

After several weeks the King receives a gift from the king of Burma, a beautiful slave girl named Taptim, to be one of his many wives. She is escorted by Lun Tha, a scholar who has come to copy a design for a temple, and the two are secretly in love. She declares that the king may own her, but not her heart (My Lord and Master).

Anna eventually gets her first audience with the King, and she is outraged about her treatment of being confined to her room and him not honouring his promise of a house. He dismisses her protests and orders her to talk with his wives. They are interested in her and ask many questions, especially about her husband and she tells them about Tom (Hello, Young Lovers). The King presents her new pupils, the princes and princess enter in procession (March of the Royal Siamese Children). Anna is charmed by them, and the formality of the ceremony is broken down as they all gather around her.

Anna has not given up with getting her house and uses different proverbs and songs about home life, which irritates the king. The pupils both young and older are keen learners and work hard to learn English (The Royal Bangkok Academy). In due course a map arrives from England, and they are all astonished at how small Siam is in conjunction to the rest of the world. (Getting to Know you). The crowned prince Chualongkom is angry and says the map isn’t real; the room is in chaos when the king enters. He reprimands the children and tells them to believe the teacher, but he also told Anna to stop her digging lessons about home. Anna who is never afraid to stand her ground and insists he shouldn’t break his promise about her house and threatens to leave Siam. He is in indignant and orders her to obey as ‘my servant’; Anna rejects the insulting term and hurries away. The king dismisses school and is now uncertain of his next action. Meanwhile, Lun Tha and Tuptim secretly meet and talk about having to hide their love for one another. (We Kiss in a Shadow).

Anna is angry and is replaying the confrontation she had with the king (Shall I Tell you what I think of you?) as she is throwing her belonging into cases and chests. Lady Thaing, the kings head wife comes to see Anna and tells her that the king needs her, and that he had received news that the people of the west think he is a barbarian. Regardless of how Anna is feeling in that moment she knows that the king is no barbarian; but still smarting from his hurtful remarks it takes Lady Thiang to convince her to support and help him; but also, to make it sound like all decisions are his.
Anna finds out that the British are sending an envoy to Bangkok to evaluate the situation in Siam, in a round about way she convinces the king to receive the envoy in European style; having the wives dressed in western fashion, the children putting on a play with Tuptim narrating the story of Uncle Toms Cabin. Tuptim hears that Lun Tha is being shipped out that night and they devise an escape plan for after the show. Everything went to plan, and Sir Edward was happy and told the king that there is no threat from the British.

However, the king is angered by Tuptim rebellious message she intertwined into the message of Uncle Toms Cabin. The King expresses his delight at how the evening went and presents Anna with a ring. The secret police inform the king that Tuptim is missing. Anna knew of the escape plan and asks the king why he should worry as she is just another woman, the king believes that she is finally understanding the Siamese custom. The king questions Anna about the western ways and she teaches him to dance, in a very romantic scene they connect with each other.

Tuptim is caught and brought before the king, interrupting the beautiful love scene that can’t be spoken about. The king is determined to punish Tuptim and Anna tries to stop him, by covering Tuptim from the harsh whipping she was to receive. When they eventually find Tuptim dead and Tuptim is dragged off stating that she is now dead and will take her own life. Anna speaks with the prime minister telling him she wishes she never came to Siam, and to return the ring to the king.

Time passes and Anna has no contact with the king and is packed and ready to leave. Chulalongkom arrives with a letter from the king, who is lying in his death bed unable to come to terms with his conflict of differences. Anna from reading the letter rushes to the king. The dying king tells Anna to take instruction from Chulalongkom as he is now the king.

The prince makes his first proclamation that there will be no more kowtowing (the way everyone had to grovel to the king) and only need to bow or curtsey. Anna kneels by the kings side as he died holding his hand and kissing it. The wives and children bowed and curtsey in respect to the old and new king alike.

This show brought out many feelings of how people were trapped in customs that made them feel like slaves, but with education and love they learnt to turn things around.

The theatre was booked to capacity, and everyone loved every moment; with laughter, clapping along and falling in love too.

The costumes and designs were stunning; the play presented of Uncle Toms Cabin was stunning with beautiful dance and how they presented the elements.

I was awe struck with the actors, their singing and especially of the children who were charming.
I would recommend this to young and old, with live music, humour and teaching of times gone by will never age.

Rating: 5/5

The show is on from 16th May 2023 – 20th May 2023

Tickets cost from £13.00 (subject to a transaction fee of £2.85)

For more information or to book tickets, please visit The King and I Tickets | King’s Theatre, Glasgow Box Office | ATG Tickets

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