ANNALENE Beechey is quick to admit that she has some unfinished business as far as the musical The King and I is concerned.

One of the most in demand performers in musical theatre, Annalene had played the main role of Anna, the forthright governess employed to look after the King of Siam’s children, in the West End. She then took the show out on the road, premiering in Manchester but the national tour was abruptly ended when Covid struck.

“It does feel a little bizarre,” she said. “For me the whole process started five years ago and then we opened four years ago in Manchester. We got as far a Liverpool and that was it.”

Now Annalene gets the chance to return to Manchester’s Palace Theatre before heading off around the country for the rest of the year.

What makes this show slightly different is that it is already on tour and Annalene will be replacing Helen George, best known for Call the Midwife, from next week.

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“I have returned to a one or two roles in the past after a couple of years and it always feels different,” she said. “Obviously there may be new people in the company which makes a difference.

“It’s like putting on a pair of shoes you have not worn for a few years and remembering ‘oh they rubbed that part of my foot’ or ‘those were really comfortable’. You remember the good and the bad and you try and tweak things.

“The other thing is I’m a very different person. I don’t like talking about Covid but it was a massive part of our lives, I have two children who were nine and 11 at the time so I was home schooling.

“People were laughing putting on social media that being a teacher in real life seems a lot harder than just singing about it on stage. So there I was home schooling with them asking me questions and me trying to hide my phone while I looked up the answers.”

What has made things more complicated is that the show is now fully up and running with the current cast often doing seven or eight shows a week leaving little time for rehearsals for Annalene.

“I have spent lot of time by myself in my kitchen walking through smaller versions of the set,” she said. “Thankfully this is the version of show I had done before so it is familiar. There are some small tweaks they have made but they are only little things.

“I actually met a lot of the cast for the first time last week and there were many I’d never met before. I felt like Anna meeting people of Siam for the first time. I didn’t know names and it will take me a while to recognise them all. It has felt in many ways quite a lonely process preparing myself but I know it’s all happening and I have to be able to jump in when that carousel comes round to me as if I’d always been there.”

Messenger Newspapers: Annalene Beechey in The King and I (Picture: Johan Persson)

Having spent time with the show before the enforced break, did Annalene soon pick up where she had left off?

“I have to say that I failed miserably when it came to returning to the script for the first time,” she laughed. “I think my brain had put it in a box in a room and locked the door. It’s taken me quite a few walks with my dog listening to it in my headphones. There were bits I’d get to and I had no idea what I was supposed to say next, it had just left my brain. Thankfully I’ve got past that now but you suddenly realise what a large role it is.

“But I do love the challenge, it’s a wonderful thing to do and it’s an honour to be able to step back into this amazing show.”

There are some familiar faces including Broadway star Darren Lee who plays the King and Cezarah Bonner who plays Lady Thiang.

“Everything is more or less the same,” said Annalene, “but I’m going to bring a different level, a different depth to the role that I didn’t have before. I’m three years older and the mother of a teenager which brings its own trials and tribulations and that has affected the way I look at Anna.”

Although it was written more than 70 years ago, The King and I remains surprisingly relevant to modern audiences.

“It’s a show that was way ahead of its time in many ways,” said Annalene. “You could say that about all the musicals that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote. They were so progressive in their writing; they were so supportive of female actors and singers in the industry at a time when very few people were. They wrote wonderful roles for women at a time when that respect wasn’t there.”

For most people The King and I will be forever associated with the Hollywood movie starring Yul Brynner and Derorah Kerr. It features classic songs such as I Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance?

“Both the King and Anna are fighting to create the best world for their children,” said Annalene. “I think that is why the show connects to people on such a personal level. It has stood the test of time, we all get it.”

Stepping back into the role means Annalene will once again face the rigours of touring - a different town or city every week.

Messenger Newspapers: Annalene Beechey

“Touring can be very difficult especially having children, a husband and a dog at home but you find ways to make it work,” she said. “Lucky we have the have tech can do that. The hardest thing for me is making sure I have a good night’s sleep wherever I am so I always try to bring my pillow with me.

“I tend to map out the essential shops in cities I’m going going to in advance. Then I have a little trick which helps. I take a candle which I always light as it has that familiar smell of home which make me feel comfortable.

“Fortunately the first three venues I will visit, including Manchester, are ones I’ve been too before so that’s quite comforting. I’ve got enough to worry about putting that beast of a dress on every night - it weighs four stone so I’ve been working out and doing yoga every day. It’s hard working looking elegant!”

The King and I, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Tuesday, May 9 to Saturday, May 13. Details from