The Jungle Book, theatre review: 'The steamy Indian jungle brought imaginatively to life'
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Forget about Disney’s 1967 animated feelgood classic this is
a tale as dark as the blackhole of Calcutta. But don’t let that put you off.
Walt, who died during the production of his reworking of Kipling’s Raj fables, found the source material too grim for his target audience.
He sought amends by recruiting wisecracking band leader Phil Harris, King of Swing Louis Prima and even the animated Beatles to smooth the sharper edges on the unsettling themes of identity, transition and betrayal.
Director Liam Steel, choreographer for the Bafta and Oscar-winning film version of Les Miserables, does not dodge the challenge and employs the capacious setting of the Quarry Theatre to fine effect to make his point.
The steamy Indian jungle and its array of inhabitants are brought imaginatively to life. Steel deploys drums, some beautiful singing by Japjit Kaur, dancing, stilt walking and puppetry to animate the characters and transport us beneath the canopy.
The first half of the show is set in the animal kingdom switching to the human domain for its climax. Jacob James Beswick is an agile man cub Mowgli, scampering athletically across the branches and swinging on dangling lianas like junior Tarzan.
Baloo, his guru and guide, is a more conventional stilted figure in a bear suit whilst Andrew French’s loping, powerful Shere Khan, teetering on running blades - brings copious quantities of tigerish menace to the jungle’s top predator. Ann Ogbomo’s panther Bagheera is part protector part sleek, strutting dominatrix.
Kaa the slithering python (like Bagheera written by Kipling as a male) is in this instance entertainingly played as a faded grande dame whose long body is carted somewhat unceremoniously around the stage by helpers.
The wolf pack meanwhile are a motley and scavenging crew, their red eyes glowing chillingly though trees as they first adopt and then abandon the human thrust into their midst.
But the monkeys are the show’s real stars although their big number was rather let down by muddy sound quality. The troop is characterised as a bling-sporting rap crew which – miraculously – does not patronise the young audience with its attempts at street cool but is instead genuinely funny.
Yet for all its darkness The Jungle Book did not frighten the most junior members of the family audience who were left mulling but not traumatised by Mowgli’s plight on another evening of ambitious spectacle in Leeds.
West Yorkshire Playhouse to 18 January
Arts & Ents blogs
Never before seen personal accounts of Great War offer vivid picture of life at the Front
Neil Patrick Harris talks shooting 'robotic' Gone Girl sex scene with Rosamund Pike
Boy George: Bad karma
PonoMusic: Neil Young reaches Kickstarter target to fund new music player within a day
Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Hells of residence: Inside Macedonia's horrifying student accommodation - where the walls are green and the food is black
- 2 Girl found in the Amazon rainforest with neighbour Grover Morales after going missing for 7 months
- 3 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 4 Rampaging elephant smashes up house but then 'saves crying baby trapped under debris'
- 5 Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor