Just to prove that not everything happens in London, our rapidly upcoming blogger and journalist Amelia Grace went to see “The King and I” in the provincial Yorkshire town of Hull, just a few days ago. This is what she says:
Based on the 1941 novel ‘Anna and the King of Siam’, the timeless musical ‘The King and I’ follows Anna, a schoolteacher, as her and her young son Louis emigrate to Siam (now Thailand) to start a new life teaching the King of Siam’s many children. As the opposite personalities and cultures of herself and the King clash, it portrays how even the most unlikely of people can form a strong bond between them.
The musical isn’t shy in tackling big issues such as polygamy and gender inequality which can be explicitly seen through the King’s many wives and the derogatory way he often addresses the women he interacts with. As the audience, we go on a journey with the King as Anna mellows him and causes him to see the way he acts can sometimes be oppressive. They often fight over his unwillingness to treat her as an equal because she’s a woman and he sees her as one of his subjects so therefore she must obey him and bow face on the ground to him whenever she’s in his presence. On the other hand, Anna fights for what she believes in which is equal rights for women and refuses to cower whenever she argues with the King about his treatment of women or when he demands that she bow down at his feet. She does compromise for him like when she moves her position because it offends him if she’s higher than him. However, overall, her passion and commitment to the pursuit of gender equality provides him with a refreshing perspective, considering most of the women he interacts with sycophantically agree with him on everything and would never dream of arguing with him. Although it seems quite ordinary in our modern society to fight for gender equality, it would’ve been very rare to discover a woman like Anna who mirrors some of the earliest feminists like the suffragettes.
It would potentially be dangerous to hold such views about gender inequality so Anna is quite incredible in not only voicing her opinions but fighting for rights as a woman as well. I think the reason the King never reprimands her for arguing with him about women’s rights is because he quite admires her passion and courage and can’t bring himself to harm such a strong, incredible woman. This, for me, is one of the reasons why he falls in love with her and if anyone is worthy of his love, it’s Anna.
Another quite disturbing aspect of the musical is the representation of slavery. Tuptim, a pretty slave girl, is given to the King as a present from the King of Burma. She has no choice but to become one of the King’s wives despite being in love with Lun Tha, the scholar who escorted her there. The couple share stolen kisses and clandestine moments together despite the immense danger they would be in if they were caught. In fact, they are caught by one of the King’s many wives who claims that she won’t tell the King because of how much it will anger and devastate him. However, in view of the punishments they would receive if the King discovered their affair, I was more inclined to believe it was because she would feel too guilty to sentence them both to that suffering. During an embassy visit from the UK, Tuptim performs a play she’s organised herself and the anti slavery message contained within it is very explicit. She and Lun Tha had planned to run away together after the play, however, the king discovers the affair and is enraged. Lun Tha is discovered dead and Tuptim is lead away in chains, screaming for her own suicide because what life is there without her lover being there with her?
The musical ends as the King contracts a deadly illness and is dying slowly. All his loved ones including Anna crowd around his bed, soaking up their last moments with him. It’s a quiet end to an outgoing, fierce character such as the King but I think it reflects his softer side that is concealed deep inside him. In the end, he can’t fight any longer but he has to accept his fate and appreciate the people who love him especially Anna. It feels like a natural end to the musical as he names his son the new King of Siam. One King’s reign ends as another’s journey as King is just beginning..