The King and I

© Photography by Matthew Murphy

Is this stunning 2023 revival of the 2018 West End revival of the 2015 Broadway revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic just a huge dish of nostalgia served up on a plate? Or among the saccharine sentimentality of this lavish production, is there a slightly uncomfortable side? I’ve never been one to snark at classics from previous times, just because society has moved on. But Caucasian actors as Siamese courtesans, with their hair styled in traditional Thai wigs and faces covered in white paint? It’s not a comfortable experience.

We all know the plot. Set in the 1860s, the story revolves around the unlikely relationship between Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher (portrayed with a fierce intelligence and compassionate wit by Helen George), and the King of Siam, a stubborn yet vulnerable monarch (Darren Lee). Their journey from cultural clash to deep, complicated friendship is the heart of the musical, and the two leads bring a palpable chemistry to their roles.

Anyone who’s watched the film knows the legendary score. From the first notes of the overture, there’s a sense of longing for the past that will wash over you, reminding us why these songs have stood the test of time. The orchestra breathes new life into classics like ‘Shall We Dance?’, ‘Getting to Know You’ and ‘Hello Young Lovers’: when I saw the show at the New Theatre in Cardiff in November, the audience gasped with joy every time the orchestral introductions segued into familiar verse and chorus.

No production is without its flaws, and The King and I is no exception. While the show attempts to address some of its dated elements, it occasionally falls short, particularly in its portrayal of Siamese culture and women. The production walks a fine line – trying to stay true to its roots while navigating the sensibilities of a modern audience. It’s a challenging task, and it doesn’t always hit the mark. Most of the actors are authentically of Thai ethnic origin, but those few White people in wigs and makeup? It’s not nice.

That aside, this revival of The King and I is a vibrant, emotional, and visually stunning production. It’s a musical that respects its roots while adding its own flair. There’s something magical about this show that resonates. It’s not just a trip to the theatre; it’s a journey to a bygone era, and a celebration of music. It captures the heart and the imagination in equal measure. Grab your tickets, settle into your seats and let yourself be transported to the world of Anna and the King. It’s a trip worth taking. 

The King and I is currently on UK tour and is at The Lowry in Salford from 9 January to 13 January and finishing at the Dominion Theatre in London between 20 January and 2 March.

Mrs Doubtfire

© Photography by Manuel Harlan

This wildly entertaining and surprisingly layered musical is based on the beloved ’90s Robin Williams film, Mrs Doubtfire.

It tells the story of freshly divorced comic actor Daniel Hillard, a desperate father ready to don layers of latex, pounds of padding, and a robust Scottish accent to secure the role of Euphegenia Doubtfire, an eccentric nanny. His only goal? To spend more time with his three children.

Gabriel Vick’s rendition of Hillard/Doubtfire is the undeniable centre of the show, steering it with his top-tier comedic timing and heart-rendering emotional depth. His ability to transition from the hapless dad to the fiery nanny, coupled with his stellar impersonation skills and quick-change wizardry, is nothing short of mesmerising. The show is largely fuelled by his energy, but that’s not to downplay the exceptional performances by his co-stars.

Laura Tebbutt, as Miranda Hillard, delivers a strong and empathetic portrayal of the disciplinarian mother navigating her way through a life-altering situation. Cameron Blakely’s Frank, Daniel’s brother, is a joy to watch, his comedic ‘I’m lying!’ outbursts a highlight of the show.

This adaptation smartly manoeuvres around the pitfalls of potential controversies. It takes the film’s central plot and injects it with a necessary 21st-century update, dealing tactfully with its cross-dressing premise that could otherwise stumble into problematic territory. Instead, the musical focuses on the theme of a father’s desperation and love for his children, delivering a narrative that tugs at the heartstrings while keeping the laughter rolling.

A slight negative is the score by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, which doesn’t consistently reach the heights of musical theatre brilliance. But it offers a slew of memorable tunes that shine through, like the empowering ‘Let Go’ and the heartfelt ‘What The Hell’. Nevertheless, the show could do with some more memorable numbers; you’ll come out of the theatre happy, but you won’t be humming the tunes the next morning.

The true triumph of this production is the seamless blend of humour, sentiment and message that it carries. It echoes the heartwarming and unsaccharine conclusion that family is what you make it, with a profound emotional depth that refuses to sugarcoat the reality of divorce and its impact on the family unit.

Mrs Doubtfire is a vibrant, moving and enjoyable evening out at the theatre, keeping you laughing one moment and wiping away tears the next. It takes the best parts of the film and adds an engaging new dimension through the magic of stagecraft. If you’re in the mood for some hearty laughter, touching moments, and a fresh look at an old favourite, Mrs Doubtfire is the show for you. And your kids will absolutely love it. 

Mrs Doubtfire is playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, until 29 September 2024.