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

ROBERT HANKS

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific