MUSIC Dancing king, but can he sing?

The King and I Covent Garden Festival

Strange goings-on behind the closed doors of that exotic building just off Great Queen Street, Covent Garden. Stranger than usual, that is. Freemasons' Hall, they call it, a secret world, a world of secrets. But, for this week only, the doors are wide open. The King of Siam is holding court in the splendour of the Grand Temple, where East meets West and the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein are on everyone's lips. With a set like this, who needs high-price designers?

Actually, Alison Cartledge does a nice job with her costumes: exotic silks, exotic colours. It's somehow fitting that the main stage area should more resemble a catwalk than a stage - the audience ranged on either side and up in the balconies. At one end is the orchestra, a good one, and a big one, big enough to be unmiked, thank heavens, and playing what sounds like a synthesis of the show and movie orchestrations: plusher than a pit-band but snappy with it. Conductor Peter Ash is perched precariously to one side, conspicuous enough for all to see what a hellish time he has co-ordinating with performers invariably a long way off with their backs to him. The performers are miked, but it's not an easy acoustic and there are inevitably hairy moments.

But the overture is over, we're reminded of all our favourite tunes - and what tunes - and while temple dancers gyrate at one end of the hall, the great doors at the other open to admit shafts of white light and the figure of a small boy tentatively entering this strange, foreign, unknown world. Close behind comes his mother, our heroine, Anna Leonowens.

It's a great entrance. And one of which director John Gardyne takes full advantage: exotic processions come and go, and in the echoing hallways beyond, temple chants mingle with the voices of small children singing "Home, Sweet Home". Ah, yes, the children, so cute you can all but hear the voice of the casting director - "No, get me a smaller child!"

But what of Anna and the King: two worlds, two cultures, different customs, same conceits - the chemistry of opposites? The show stands or falls on that chemistry. Let's just say that here it tottered. Liz Robertson's Anna was adequate, no more. There has to be more beyond the poise, the superficial charm. The voice is bland, the pitching dubious and how she managed to throw away that magical introduction to "Hello Young Lovers" I'll never know. Sure, she rose to her feisty tirade "Shall I tell you what I think of you", but fail with that lyric and you've no business singing it.

The dancer Irek Mukhamedov was a smart idea as the King - in theory. He has great presence, a powerful physicality. But he's nowhere near the vocal demands, spoken or sung. We can laugh at the ungrammatical, but not the unintelligible. "Shall We Dance?" stopped the show, but then it does, doesn't it?

No, the real stars were to be found in the sub-plot: the "young lovers", Deborah Myers's Tuptim (fragrant voice, rapturous phrasing) and Mario Frangoulis's Lun Tha. And, of course, that set. But you don't come out humming it: the tunes are far too good.

Edward Seckerson

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn