Society musical has its highs and lows

As You Like It, with Jessica Hayles centre. Picture by Keith Pattison

How do you like it? Gender and politics in Shakespeare at the New Theatre Royal

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The King And I

Ferneham Hall, Fareham

Many Rogers and Hammerstein shows present history with a theatrical twist. This is true, too, of Fareham Musical Society’s latest offering – The King and I.

Based on teacher Anna Leonowens’ sojourn as a teacher to the court of Siam, it is a multi-layered story examining racism, sexism and colonialism. There’s also a debate in there on the morality of slavery, a couple of love-stories and a good slab of humour, all bound up with the sublime Hammerstein tunes and Rogers lyrics.

It’s a well-intentioned production with highs and lows. The principal low is a lack of vision and imagination in the direction. As presented here we have an almost-literal lifting of the film from screen to stage, even having the King with a Brynner-esque shaved head, although the real Rama IV had a full head of hair. Where’s the creativity? This is just reproducing someone else’s work.

That said, Graeme Clements makes an impressive and likeable king and Alexandra McLean sings Anna well.

The standout performances here come from Sue Rourke and youngster Elliott Swann as Lady Thiang and her son Prince Chululongkorn. Rourke gives an astonishing, knock-yer-socks-off performance – small and meticulous, real and genuine and truthful.

But watch out for young Swann. Throughout he is practically faultless – but the last scene as his father dies, almost unnoticed, behind him and Chululongkorn becomes the new king, is enough to wet the most dry and cynical of eyes.

Until Saturday.