Theatre / The Jungle Book Young Vic, London

Kipling's The Jungle Book is one of that dispiritingly large group of children's classics that live constantly in the shadow of a Disney version; and while the literary originals of Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan have managed to maintain an independent existence, it's probably the case that most children know about Kipling's characters only through their much thinner, lighter screen incarnations.

The problem is that Kipling is not really a children's writer, at least as we understand the term today. His jungle is a very dark, dense place, with a prose style to match; he offers few concessions to a child's vocabulary or sense of humour (just as well, given that his jokes tend to be rather grim and unfunny affairs). Understandably, most versions of The Jungle Book opt for some sort of compromise between Kipling and Disney, trying to borrow at least some of the cute charm of the cartoon - that was even true of Michael Berkeley's serious-minded opera of a couple of years ago, Baa Baa Black Sheep, with its animal costumes and the comical capers of the human characters.

Given this history of watered-down Kipling, Tim Supple's staging comes as a very pleasant surprise. Rather than relying on cute animals to grab the attention, he relies on the driving narrative of the books, even preserving huge chunks of Kipling's prose: rather than being an adorable little boy, Ronny Jhutti's Mowgli is a brashly assertive youth learning uncomfortable truths about love, pain and duty. And there are no masks or gaudy scenery. Instead, the action takes place in an arena of red sand, with a metal bridge running overhead; and the various kinds of animal are suggested by the actors through movement and dress - a long tiger-skin coat for Shere Khan, monkish brown robes for Baloo and, a little more puzzlingly, mohicans, baggy sweaters and 16-hole Docs for the wolves. This isn't always effective; but at its best - as in Andy Williams's stately, gracefully camp performance as Kaa, the python - it is both thrilling and funny.

The most serious criticism of the production is that at times the action dispenses with some of the shades of feeling present in the stories. When the Bandar-Log - the monkey people - kidnap Mowgli and carry him off through the tree-tops, the spoken narrative gives you a sense of the grace and the excitement of their headlong progress; but at the same time, what you're actually seeing is merely frenetic.

Still, for admirers of Kipling - despite a revival of academic interest in recent years, still the most underrated author this country has produced - it is a pleasure to see how near this production gets to the heart of the stories. The really unexpected part is how well an unexpurgated version seemed to work for even the younger children in the audience, the complexities of the writing mostly made up for by the speed of the action and, it has to be admitted, a couple of interpolated bottom and poo jokes - I could have lived without the donkey-dung routine in the second half. Then again, since Kipling makes so few concessions to children, in this case you're prepared to forgive the director if he makes a few of his own.

n To 27 Jan 1996. Booking: 0171-928 6363


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor