Theatre review: The Jungle Book at Lion and Unicorn Theatre
Athletic cast brings animals to life in atmospheric production
In adapting this book, the authors have set themselves a mammoth task. The stories come from Kipling’s own childhood in India and some of them are from moral fables in which the animals are anthropomorphised. There is no music in this one, how could there be when the music of the film is so well known and well loved. There is, however, a reference when Baloo mentions Bare Necessities and Bagheera says, “Don’t burst into song” – so they don’t. I rather wish they would, but there is no way it would be possible. I think the play is rather too long for a children’s show and there is restlessness during act two. Baloo’s “If” speech would have benefitted from a few cuts, but it may not be allowed by the Kipling Estate.
All the parts and all the animals are played by just eight actors – seven men and one girl – and they all double and treble throughout except of course for Mowgli. He is played by Dmitry Ser with a great deal of charm and some neat cartwheeling. All of the actors need to be athletic, including Samuel Treon as Bagheera, the pouncing black panther, and even Michael Gonsalves as Baloo the bumbling bear in his huge teddy bear outfit. Chuku Modu is a wonderfully sinister Shere Khan, the evil tiger, and Kaa the python is played by Yiltan Ahmet. All the rest of the animals are either friendly or frightening and energetically portrayed by Augustina Amoa, Rishi Nair and Giuseppe Fraschini.
There is no audience participation, which I think would have helped it along a bit, and, instead of a storyteller, there is a voiceover which seems too formal. One just longs for Baloo or Bagheera to break down the fourth wall occasionally.However, there is much to enjoy. The animal masks and costumes are excellent and Corey Roberts’ set is atmospheric – very jungle-like composed of bamboo and vines and wooden ramps, which gives variation and interest to the general picture. Direction is by Simon James Collier, who adapted the book with Adam Dechanel.
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