Review: The King and I, Edinburgh Playhouse

Tradition states that your head should never be above the King of Siam’s but on this occasion you would be forgiven for a more relaxed meeting with his majesty as the The King and I rolls into Edinburgh for the latest part of its world tour.

Set in the 1860s, this classic musical tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a young English widow and the King of Siam after she accepts a job teaching his children in the royal palace. Cultures clash when East meets West as Anna helps the King keep his country safe from colonisers and modernise the monarchy. 

The story raises some unavoidably contentious issues though. Based on Anna and the King of Siam, a 1944 semi-fictionalised biographical novel by Margaret Landon, the imperialistic undertones have not aged entirely well.

Keeping that aside though, the production itself is a marvel. Based on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Academy Award-winning 1950s musical The King and I, the production includes all the classics from the hit movie, such as I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You and Shall we Dance? all of which are beautifully delivered by a live orchestra. 

Annalene Beechey is delightful as disciplined school teacher Anna Leonowens. She oozes style and class, reminiscent of the likes of screen legend Julie Andrews, and her co-star Jose Llana, who plays the troubled King, also delivers a fine performance throughout. Cezarah Bonner is scene-stealing as head wife Lady Thiang and Paulina Yeung delivers both a vulnerable and strong performance as peasant girl Tuptim. 

It is a lavish production too: 22,000 handmade flowers were made for the garden scenes; over 2,500 metres of fabric was used for those intricate costumes; singing bowls and props were all sourced 5,800 miles away in Japan; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Not an ounce of detail goes spared in this sophisticated top class production.

The King and I is often credited as being one of the greatest Hollywood musicals of all time – and for fans of the film this production will certainly not disappoint. 

The King and I is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday, 26 October 2019

Words: Aimee Stanton

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