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The King and I

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
If Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerrstein's much-loved 1951 musical
were to be pitched as a new work today, chances are it would be knocked
back at every turn. Devising a show about an eastern despot with a
dodgy human rights record and a fondness for American presidents who is
enlightened and educated by a prim English school-teacher, after all,
hardly sounds like the sort of feelgood fare to keep the nation's
post-war pecker up. Slavery, misogyny, bullying, spying and brutality
are all in the mix, and if there's anything happy about the ending,
it's that the King's death is for a more universal good.

Yet even at a Saturday afternoon preview performance of the newly
constituted Music and Lyrics consortium's touring restaging of Paul
Kerryson's original production for The Curve, Leicester, its
eye-poppingly clear just how inspired a yarn this is. The songs and
story are intact, with Ramon Tikaram and Josefina Gabrielle making a
handsome-looking cross-cultural couple, and a ten-piece orchestra in
full view at the back of Sara Perks' vivid set. Yet there seems
something very modern at play here, even as Kerryson and co look to
traditional theatrical forms in a near boutique fashion.

Shadow puppetry and gymnastic interludes frame each scene, adding to an
already sumptuous spectacle, while the singing during the second act
play within a play somewhat bizarrely and almost certainly
unintentionally recalls the vocals of Glasgow-based visual artist Sue
Tompkins in post-punk outfit Life Without Buildings a decade back. This
is a show that's full of heart and soul, which, as charming as it is,
also takes itself seriously enough to give those blinded by power their
come-uppance.

The Herald, December 19th 2011

ends

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