To millions of TV viewers Helen George is Trixie, the well-spoken, fashionable one in Call the Midwife.

But theatre audiences at The Lowry are getting the chance to see another side of her as she plays a starring role in the classic musical The King and I. It will be in Salford for just a week before heading into London’s West End.

Helen is returning to the role of Anna, the Victorian governess employed by the King of Siam, having toured with the show early in 2023.

Lancashire Telegraph: Helen George in The KIng and I
              (Picture: Johan Persson)

She admits that it still surprised audiences to see her name on the poster.

“That’s one of the reasons I took on the role,” she said. “I wanted to show them I’m not just ‘that girl off the telly’.

“I want to challenge myself and other people’s ideas of me I suppose. I’ve been so fortunate with Call the Midwife and hopefully in future I’ll have other screen projects, both film and TV.

“But I’ve always been passionate about theatre and thought it’s about time I stopped talking about doing a musical and just did one.

“I trained in musical theatre so it’s not as though I’m thinking I’m not ready for this or that the role shouldn’t be given to me. I’m confident this has come at right time.

“Over the years I have done a lot of plays but not a musical, mainly because it was all about finding the right musical.

“I found that the musicals I was being offered was for roles that were approximations of Trixie; the blonde cameo part that was funny and who wore hot pants.

Lancashire Telegraph: Helen George

“This was the first fully-fleshed out, brilliant lead I was offered which I just couldn’t turn down.”

This production of The King and I, directed by Bartlett Sher, has won awards on both Broadway and in the West End and sees Helen reunited with Broadway star Darren Lee who plays The King.

Written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, The King and I features songs such as Getting To Know You, Shall We Dance and Hello Young Lovers.

“It is remarkable,” said Helen, “and Bartlett has taken this amazing script and stripped away all the Las Vegas-style King and I, pared it down and yet made it so luscious.

“Some of the scenes are 15 pages long which rarely happens in modern musical theatre yet when I was in the show before, you could hear a pin drop and you also get such amazing tunes, one after another,” said Helen.

“It’s really a play with music. There’s nothing fluffy about it - it’s insightful and so modern. It was written in 1950s about a Victorian woman and yet it could be a modern tale.”

At first glance, Anna and Helen’s TV character Trixie would see to be worlds apart but she can see similarities.

“I think there is an overlap,” she said. “Both are strong and bloody minded but Trixie has a vulnerability that’s palpable whereas Anna always hides that. She has to be as alpha as the king.

“That’s what I’ve really enjoyed about her. There are really two Annas - the Anna who went to Siam and wrote a book about her experiences and the Anna, the character which she created for herself. I’ve tried to reflect both of these.

“Anna is fearless, outwardly so. She has no choice. She has to ignore her female sensitivities and stand square in face of all the men around her and not back down”

It is surprising to learn that even today Anna Leonowens’ book - The English Governess at the Siamese Court - which she wrote in 1870 is still banned in Thailand, modern-day Siam.

“It’s fair to say the royal family disagrees with her version of the truth,” said Helen. “But this production doesn’t shy away from things and Bartlett Sher has made it culturally appropriate.

Lancashire Telegraph: Helen George in The KIng and I (Picture: Johan Persson)

“Past productions would have very few Asian actors in the cast and we are really holding up a mirror to Western society. There’s this clever mix of having a necessary political stance wrapped up in a family show - it’s a bit like Call the Midwife in that regard.”

Although she trained at the Royal Academy of Music, Helen admits she had to ‘blow the cobwebs off’ when it came to singing again.

While at college she actually went out on tour with Elton John as one of his backing singers.

“He trained there too and he's always been very supportive. He was going out on tour and took some of the graduates to be backing singers and musicians,” she said. “That was a while ago but it was great fun.”

Helen will also be known for appearing on Strictly Come Dancing in 2015 when she partnered Aljaz Skorjanec and she admits her Strictly experience has come in useful.

“Ballroom was always my favourite on Strictly so when it came to this show I immediately knew how to position myself and the correct hold for the polka scene.”

But one thing Strictly didn’t prepare her for was the size of the dresses she wears on stage.

“They’re enormous,” she laughed. “The dress I have to dance in is a beast - I’ve never worn anything like it before. There were theatres around the country where the set fits in but the dress does not. I’d come off stage dragging everything along with me including small children. Having said that it’s pretty amazing to wear.”

Being part of such a successful show as Call the Midwife, Helen is used to rumours about whether she will be part of future series.

“The next series starts this week,” she said. “I came out of the King and I and was able to go into filming for it which ended just before Christmas. Then two more series have been commissioned which will take us into the 1970s. I’ve been really lucky to have Trixie.”

So having gone back to her first love, are more musicals possible in future?

“If the right part came along be that musical, stage play or TV or film I’d have to consider it,” she replied diplomatically. “But I think I’d really struggle with a juke box musical. I wouldn’t want to just be singing for no reason.”

The King and I, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, January 9 to Saturday, January 13. Details from