Oct 29 2010 By Barry Dix
A HUGE Royal Standard - the biggest I’ve ever seen - was fluttering high in the night sky above Windsor last week to mark the fact that the Queen was in the castle, playing host to royalty from Qatar.
How appropriate then that at the Theatre Royal, literally in the shadows of the castle, the enthusiastic members of Songtime Theatre Arts were treating the audience to a stately version of The King And I.
Songtime are regulars at the venue - they staged stunning versions both of Billy Elliott and Beauty and the Beast earlier this year - but it was refreshing to see them putting on a musical rarely performed these days.
They certainly rose to the occasion, instilling the sparkle and zest of youth into the well-known story.
The King and I is based on the tale of English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, who is hired by the King of Siam to give lessons to his numerous offspring.
From the start of Anna gets off on the wrong foot with the king, and is appalled by his despotic ways.
Gradually, of course, the relationship blossoms and by the time the couple are flitting around the stage to Shall We Dance? they’re very much in love. It doesn’t last and The King and I must be one of the few of its genre not to have a happy ending.
Francesca Barberis, in the role of Anna, puts in a gem of a performance. From the very first scene she is confident, poised and at ease with the role. Oh yes, she sings like an angel too.
I was astonished to read at the interval that she is only 17. Her talent belies her tender age and she is surely destined for a glittering career.
Francesca’s presence seems to put the others in the cast at ease, enabling them to thrive in their respective roles.
Jake Herbert puts his heart and soul into portraying the king, managing to bring out the humour, charm and dark side of the role with equal skill, and tackling the singing with confidence.
The two lead characters are supported by a large and talented cast, some of whom are of a very young age.
It’s a glittering show by one of this country’s finest groups of young actors and is skilfully directed by Eddie Dredge, who brings out the best in his youthful cast. More power to their elbows!
The King and I is at The Theatre Royal, Windsor until Saturday, October 30. Contact the box office on 01753 853888.