Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book by Rudyard KiplingFrom the moment I sat down, I was so admiring of the jungle stage setting by colourful battens and streamers (all over the block rocks, tree limb stairs, towering trunks and treetop boxes) that I only became aware of the wild beast hidden in the undergrowth by the SHHHH of a watchful teacher warning her children to be quiet. Children who later on would be in grave danger of being crushed in the sinuous curves of Elexi Walker (Kaa the Snake) intent on eating at least some terrified tots (and delighted adults). Jorell Coiffic-Kamal’s Bagheera the Panther moved consistently in low level stretches when not springing into action, so with these actors embodying animals so well (and Obioma Ugoala a lovely cuddly Baloo the Bear) it could be expected that Jake Davies as Mowgli the Mancub would find himself upstaged. Not at all. Although his initial backstory backpacked appearance was confusing and unnecessary, from the moment the lights showed his muscled torso through his netting vest it was clear that here was an agile actor. Springing up trees and boulders and swinging on lianas, mischievous as a monkey yet loyal and, eventually, capable of learning profound lessons of both jungle and village life, Mowgli held the attention and provoked both humour and admiration, despite the unclear ending. No matter. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is a delight. I watched in wonder at the imagination and ingenuity of the creative team: Director Nikolai Foster, Designer Takis, Choreographer Cressida Carré and Puppet Maker and Designer Justin Wilson especially. An adaptation will always be compared to the original and a theatre production that doesn’t use the musical numbers that everyone knows risks running, like Shere Khan the Tiger: at a limp. Except that this production didn’t and neither did Lanre Malaolu. Despite being shorter than Henry Bauckham, Chris Donald, Jack Lord and Loren O’Dair  (Tabaqui the Jackal; Wolves Ban and Akela, and Raksha Mowgli’s wolf/ human mother), this cool cat dominated and his roar made everyone jump. The contest for the King of The Jungle Book, between man cub and beast, was well-matched.

-Alan McManus

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