The King and I reviews

What a bunch of amateurs!
Rod McPhee, Yorkshire Evening Post
26 November 2009

There’s something about watching a bloke from Barnsley play the King of Siam that’s deeply nourishing to the soul. But then that’s the beauty of a company made up entirely of local people.

It isn’t, it must be stressed, some halfhearted affair with a few wannabes banging away at the bolted door of their dreams, the cast of the Leeds Amateur Operatic Society are really rather brilliant. Of course, staging something on the scale of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece potentially gave them enough rope to hang themselves with. But no dodgy sets, dodgy accents, garish outfits and hammy acting – they did a consummate job of presenting a glittering production which was, somehow, nicely understated.

The lighting, the scenery, the choreography, it wasn’t perfect but it was a damn sight better than many a professional production which has passed through the doors of Leeds Grand Theatre. The only slightly cringeworthy distraction were four flickering torches placed on the stage – an imitation made up of tapered sections of fabric lit up in reds and oranges and blown into the air by fans so as to look like flames. They didn’t look like flames, they looked like tapered sections of fabric lit up in reds and oranges and blown into the air by fans.

But that’s mere pedantry, because all the key elements were there. All the principal roles were undertaken by great singers and all the dance sections were great, even if they weren’t as polished as they might have been.

Reb Flewitt (the bloke from Barnsley) was fantastic as the King, Katrina Wood (a Bradford lass) was more than a match as schoolteacher Anna and Gemma Durkin (from Cleckheaton) really nailed her part as Tuptim. Nicola Brook stole the show in some sections as Lady Thiang, only Alex Hogg as Lun Tha took some of her limelight. Perhaps the greatest achievement was co-ordinating the staging of a show which has a vast cast, and not only a vast cast but one filled with children and oodles of intricate sections requiring huge amounts of planning and precision. Yet they pulled it off, apparently without effort. Having seen the elite West End version with Elaine Paige in the lead role, this reviewer has to admit there is a notable difference in standard but it’s only a degree or two, they aren’t leagues apart. LAOS should be proud of themselves, and Leeds should be proud to call them our own.

What a tonic
Val Pennett, Wharfedale and Airedale Observer
26 November 2009

What a tonic for a poor night the latest production by LAOS was. Lashing rain and wind was not the best incentive to get anyone out of their homes, but the Grand Theatre was full for this first night performance.

Surprisingly the company have never given King and I before. The show lends itself to a large stage, and here at the Grand, this fortunate, well-supported society has all the facilities for this huge show. Superb colour, fantastic sets with impressive simulated flaming cauldrons, excellent costumes and some fine acting combined to make King and I visually stunning and memorable. Directed and choreographed by Louise Denison, whose talent is prolific, the show comes alive and depicts the period of Bangkok and Siam of the 1860s amazingly. Her attention to detail, particularly the choreography and movement of the large company, is exemplary.

Musically of course the score is well known and delightful. The orchestra of 15 were a pleasure to listen to and there were some lovely moments from the violin section. MD was Jim Lunt.

A large part of the second half was taken up with the ballet sequence. This was perhaps a bit long, but was beautifully choreographed and costumed.

King and I, one has to say, stands or falls on the capability of the two leading characters of the King and Anna. What a wonderful combination Rob Flewitt and Katrina Wood were, both now having played the part three times. Rob gave a fantastic performance.  Quirky and funny one minute, strong, confused and caring the next, his movement always in keeping with the character. His songs too were so well executed.

For me Katrina was the ideal Anna. Bright, precise with a twinkle in her eye but defiant and loving too. Looking and moving beautifully she was a delight. Her voice has a lovely tone and all her numbers were a pleasure, particularly with the excellent children.

There were two excellently sung supporting roles from Gemma Durkin as Tuptim and Alex Hogg as Lun Tha. Lady Thiang was cleverly played by Nicola Brook and special mention must be made of the two boys, Bradley Judge as the Prince and Callum Barrott as Louis, who were splendid. All minor roles were well played and added to an evening to remember.

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