The Jungle Book: Theatre Review
It had been a little while since I last went to the theatre, however what better way to kick off a new year of dramatics than with a musical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, reimagined for the stage by Jessica Swale, with original songs composed by Joe Stilgoe. It was a lively and entertaining evening out; the term ‘fun for all the family’ is grossly overused in theatre critique these days however I feel like for this it certainly applied – there was something for all age demographics.
For those unfamiliar (how could you be, Disney’s 1967 film was a classic!) with the general plot of The Jungle Book, it follows the adventures of ‘man-cub’ Mowgli, raised in the jungle, quite literally by wolves, and the different creatures he meets as he grows up and realises that he is not quite like the other animals of the jungle. Swale’s interpretation really invested a lot in the earnest message that differences are to be accepted, with some lovely moments of character growth as Mowgli grew to accept and appreciate the fact that he wasn’t like the other cubs. The play chose to take two stories from Kipling’s original compilations, and weave them into one plot that bore similarities to the Disney version, but remained a fresh adaptation of the classic characters.
My first impressions of the set were that it was somewhat minimalistic, with corrugated iron sheets that bore the title of the performance hiding a plethora of instruments and a shower of ladders hanging from the ceiling. However, as the performance began these were moved and we were transported into the bedroom of Mowgli (played with captivating innocence by Keziah Joseph). The main staging consisted of a construction based around yet more ladders and planks, as well as a very well-used rotating stage: an interesting and visually appealing way of replicating the titular Indian jungle.
The ensemble cast was very strong, both vocally and in their acting talent: it’s always challenging to portray animals on stage as a human actor; getting the right balance between real and ridiculous, however I feel like for the most part it was done excellently. The standout performance for me came from Deborah Oyelade, who simply oozed charisma as the panther Bagheera; in almost every scene she stole the show. Rachel Dawson as the snake Kaa also deserves a mention; I found myself hoping she would return after a brief but enchanting scene with her 9-foot long tail! Interestingly five of the cast were also musicians that provided excellent instrumentals for most of the songs, which is a testament to the impressive versatility of the performers – many acted in more than one role on top of this. Credit must also be given to percussionist Diego Gomes who remained at the back of the stage throughout and accompanied each musical number with infectiously energetic playing.
The energies of each species were conveyed with a sense of humour and costumes were kept simple; particular highlights included the aforementioned snake’s tail, and crutches to replicate the forelegs of the wolves. I enjoyed the fact that there wasn’t too much of a literal interpretation of each animal, and characters wore human clothes with a slightly bestial touch: Baloo’s fur covered dungarees or the “funky monkey” beanies with ears stitched on.
Overall, The Jungle Book was an excellent evening out; there was comedy, catchy and often poignant musical numbers and a sense of well-meaning fun. The messages about self-acceptance and the importance of diversity were handled well; though some of the more slapstick and self-aware moments did seem to me to be easy punchlines (including one particularly cringe-worthy moment referencing avocado on toast). All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening.
The Jungle Book is on at The Everyman Playhouse, Liverpool until the 17th of February – click here to purchase tickets.