Born to be king of the stage

Ramon Tikaram in The King and I at Sheffield Lyceum
Ramon Tikaram in The King and I at Sheffield Lyceum

YOU probably know him best as Qadim Shah, stern Asian dad of Amira in EastEnders, but Ramon Tikaram’s career began on the stage with the National Youth Theatre and has spanned music, voiceovers and video games as well as a variety of authority figures in film and TV drama.

Among others he’s played Judas Iscariot, Gaddafi – and now the autocratic monarch of 19th century Siam in the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I.

“I can’t get away from it,’ he says a little ruefully. “Producers just seem to see me in that way.

“Series drama like EastEnders and This Life, my first big TV break, is great, but the producers are under pressure and there’s not much time to explore the character properly, and a tendency to get stuck in a particular kind of part.

“What I’d really like to do is Shakespeare – eventually perhaps Othello; and Caliban in The Tempest would be real voyage of discovery. I’d like to tackle some more comedy too; in fact, I thought I was being offered a comedy for BBC4, but the role turned out to be a charming sociopath in a serious drama about the Taliban.”

(Hotel Taliban also stars Douglas Henshall and Jimi Mistry, and will go out later this year.)

Film and TV have become Ramon’s professional comfort zone over the years; how does it feel to be back on stage, where it all begins for most actors?

“There’s a warm, almost nostalgic feeling – like going back to your family. Any stage production has a sense of ensemble; you’re in constant contact with every part of the process – costumes, music, everything. And of course when you come back to it, you’ve lived a little more, and you have new experience to bring to your performance.”

How does he see the King of Siam?

“He’s a child feeling his way, caught in the middle of tradition and modernity. When Anna stands up to him he responds aggressively, but secretly he enjoys it. Inside him there’s a nice guy trying to get out, but he doesn’t quite know how to do it!”

The King and I also stars Josefina Gabrielle as Anna, and comes to Sheffield’s Lyceum from January 17 to 21.