Hey guys! Last weekend, I visited Hull New Theatre again to watch the musical ‘The King and I’. It’s set in the 1860s and it follows the experiences of Anna, a British school teacher, who has been hired by the King of Siam in a drive to modernise his country. The relationships that she builds with his children, his wives and of course him are the centre piece of the musical and contrast between conflict and love which exists within the palace walls. It presents polygamy, culture clashes between Britain and Siam and the oppression of women in a really interesting way whilst still entertaining the audiences. It was a very fun evening and I’m lucky that I got the opportunity to see it. So in today’s post, I’m going to review ‘The King and I’ and grant you with my honest opinions of it.
SUMMARY OF THE PLOT
In 1862, a strong willed, widowed schoolteacher named Anna arrives in Bangkok, Siam (also known as Thailand) to teach the children of the King. Anna and her young son Louis are escorted to the palace by the Kralahome (the prime minister) where they are expected to live despite Anna agreeing with the King beforehand that she could have her own house. She is highly offended by this and considers returning to Singapore aboard the vessel that brought them but decides against it and follows the Kralahome to the palace.
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Several weeks pass and Louis and Anna are concealed within their rooms at the palace, unable to leave them. The King receives a gift from the King of Burma, a slave girl called Tuptim who becomes one of his many wives. She is accompanied by Lun Tha, a scholar who has come to copy a design for a temple who Tuptim is clandestinely in love with. Finally, the King decides Anna is ready to teach. Her school teaching is part of his scheme to modernise Siam and escape his barbaric reputation: he is impressed that Anna already knows this. Anna tries to bring up the issue of having her own house with him but he dismisses this and orders that she speak with his wives who seem interested in her. She is then presented with her pupils – the wives who are in favour with the king and their children. Each prince and princess prances in and is presented to Anna who finds them all very charming and adorable.
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Anna teaches them of her home life (much to the King’s annoyance) as well English and other subjects. The King is struggling enough without being at war with Anna as well and he wonders when the world got so complicated. The children are very surprised upon seeing a world map to discover how much smaller Siam is than many other countries. As the Crown Prince Chulalongkorn disregards the map, the King enters a very rowdy classroom. He immediately demands order, commanding them to believe their schoolteacher. He is however annoyed about Anna’s ‘home’ lessons. Anna refuses to be bullied into anything and insists on the letter of her contract, threatening to leave Siam despite the protests of the King’s many wives and children. The King belittles her as ‘my servant’ so she renounces the term and hurries away. Meanwhile, Tuptim and Lun Tha kiss and mull over the need for the secrecy of their relationship.
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In her room, Anna is enraged over the conflict. Lady Thiang, the King’s head wife, comes to see her and begs her to help him; the King’s portrayal as a barbarian leader means Britain are seeking to control Siam as a protectorate. Anna agrees to help as she doesn’t seem him as oppressive but is reluctant to see him after their dispute. Eventually, she does see him and he tells her of the embassy the British want to send to assess the situation. Anna ‘guesses’ -the only pretence under which the King will accept advice- that the King will adopt a more European style to welcome his guests. Tuptim has been reading a book Anna lent her, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that can be performed for the guests. The guests are coming much earlier than expected so Anna and the wives rush around to prepare everything on time. The first act ends with them all praying to Budha and the King promising Anna her own house in the prayer.
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The wives are dressed in European dresses which are very confusing for them. Sir Edward arrives, leading the embassy, and it’s revealed that he is an old flame of Anna. They dance to reminisce and Edward tries to cajole her into returning to British society. The King enters and reminds them quite irritably that dancing should occur after dinner. As the final preparations for the play are made, Tuptim and Lun Tha meet quickly. He tells her he has an escape plan so she should ready herself to leave after the performance. Anna encounters them and they confide in her. The play (Small House of Uncle Thomas) is represented in a Siamese ballet inspired dance with narration from Tuptim. It enchants the audience with the story of a runaway slave Eliza who escapes King Simon of Legree. Eliza is saved by Budha who freezes a river for her and conceals her in snow. Budha then melts the ice so Simon and his hunting party drown to death. The anti slavery message is very explicit.
After the play, Sir Edward reveals the British are pleased with Siam and will leave the King to rule it alone. The King is grateful but distracted by Tuptim’s rebellious message. He and Anna celebrate over the success of the evening and he presents her with a ring. The Secret Police report Tuptim as missing; the King realises Anna knows something about it. She counters this by saying Tuptim is just another woman to him and the King is delighted that she is beginning to understand the Siamese philosophy. They end up dancing as Anna tries to explain formal dances that exist in Western Culture to him and their love for each other is expressed without words. The Kralahome interrupts them with news that Tuptim has been captured and Lun Tha has been found dead. The King resolves to whip Tuptim to punish her despite Anna’s protests but he can’t do it in front of Anna’s horrified face. Tuptim is dragged off, begging them to kill her as the King hurries away. Anna hands the Kralahome her ring to give to the King and both of them wish she never came to Siam.
The musical ends with the King dying because he can’t resolve his inner battles. Despite not talking for months, Anna is at his bedside in an instant as soon as she finds out. The King cajoles her into to taking back the ring and helping the new King, Chulalongkorn. As his first act as King, he ends the tradition of kneeling down at the King’s feet which Anna had hated and found very degrading. Just as he said this, his father died, with Anna kissing his hand and the wives and children bowing or curtsying as a sign of respect for the past King and the new King to come.
What a story that is! I feel like it’s pretty incredible to see how the King and Anna fall for each other despite their differing perspectives and opinions on things. It shows that the King was capable of love even though he had many wives that he didn’t care about. Anna challenged him and brought out his softer side and I believe that was why he fell for her because she didn’t grovel at his feet like everyone else and she was strong no matter what. For her, I think it was the way he mellowed and become kinder and softer as they got to know each other and he wasn’t just a commanding King, he also had a soft side too. The singing in it was incredible as was the acting, dancing and costumes and I feel very lucky that I got to see this production on stage. I would definitely recommend it!
Thank you for reading this post! What’s your favourite musical? Let me know in the comments! There’ll be another post out soon but until then bye for now!
Amelia Grace a.k.a Amelia in Hull