Jungle

Wed 1st – Sat 4th February 2012

reviews

Alexander Stone

at 11:27 on 2nd Feb 2012

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As a production where the only desire, according to the pamphlet, was ‘to avoid any allusions to Walt Disney', 'Jungle' certainly succeeded. This reviewer was plunged into a gritty urban underworld of tribal survival. There was no room for Disney’s humour, or colourful pallet. The script strays only from Kipling’s work to make it contemporarily plausible; for example the fire Mowgli wields to scare off Shere Khan has become a gun.

'Jungle' is a real treat for all the senses. A projector screen at the back is used before we even see an actor to set the scene; using authentic historical black and white footage of riots followed by the erecting of a giant wall to cleave the city in two. Throughout the performance, the projector displays various black and white backdrops that give more depth and realism to what is an unfortunately cramped and unchanging stage. The musical score, mostly electronic synth and bass beats, compliments the urban griminess of the whole production. Sound effects are used almost as liberally as in a radio play to set and create scenes. The entire ensemble is powerfully arresting.

The stage and it’s utilitarian selection of props – empty oil drums, white sheets and some light rigging – were used more fully and imaginatively than I have ever experienced. The oil drums were at first bins, then a megaphone echoing Tabaqui’s mad howlings around the theatre, then stepping stones for the adventuring young brothers, and finally played upturned as steel drums. At one time or another almost every character jumped up and down the raised platforms at either edge, giving each scene a real sense of urgency and dynamism. Look out for the monkeys clambering up out of the sewers beneath the stage itself.

I suspect many audiences will come away feeling that Joe Newton as Tabaqui is the star of the show. While performances of human extremes are always going to be easier to get into as a method actor, that does not diminish the extent to which he fully embraces the possibly drug-fuelled madness in this Jungle, of Tabaqui the jackal. His soliloquies are a real high point of the show. Harrison Clark leads us through the trials of Mowgli’s childhood with an act that appeared eclipsed by those around him at the time. In the meeting of the Jungle after the interval, however, he delivered his lines with the power and precision of an orphan having finally come of age, and the whole performance came together. For this reviewer, Sarah Brown may have been miscast as Akela the Lone Wolf and leader of the Jungle. The nonchalant beast quietly exuding power in the book was replaced by a young upstart trying a little too hard for a place that she already held at the head of the pack.

'Jungle' is certainly worth going to see. The updating has worked well, and the urban world is at once reassuringly distant, and alarmingly reflective of some inner city estates. It may lack the polish of a professional production, but it has all the enthusiasm and experimentation of amateur dramatists exploring themselves, and the medium.

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Kate Samuelson

at 15:44 on 2nd Feb 2012

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Emily Roberts and Matthew Lister’s loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book was a refreshingly modern and dark way of recounting the age-old and much loved tale of Mowgli’s adventures. I was shocked in the interval to read in the programme that the whole show had been put together over a ‘relatively short time of three term weeks’, as the detailed choreography and sharp attention to minor details - such as shadows - suggested months of practice. The play began with a projection of various short clips depicting run-down, impoverished sights. The projector was used throughout, most powerfully during the fire scene where the backdrop glowed bright red. This was a subtle addition to the reasonably plain set, which was comprised of a few bins and scaffolding. The plain set did not hinder the performance however, as the actors swung over and climbed under various parts of scaffolding, powerfully conveying the impression of an urban, destitute jungle. Joe Newton’s opening performance as the mad Tabaqui was brilliantly executed, silencing the audience with his mumbled ramblings and occasional shouts, his twisted bodily movements further accentuating his insanity. Tabaqui’s role as the exiled, discarded narrator was a clever adaptation of the original, however it could have been even more effective in creating a sense of continuity through the play if he had been given a larger part in Act Two. The use of lighting and shadows, from the illumination of Shere Kahn (Jamie Reid) at the beginning to the growth of Mowgli from a small, potentially papier-mâché puppet into a full-grown boy (Harrison Clark), was brilliantly executed. The UV lighting, too, was an effective addition to Mowgli’s dangerous independent journey through the jungle, as the scene involved the remaining cast members each in black, both wearing and holding a white mask that gleamed brightly in the UV light, creating a successfully threatening and frightening environment. The crowd scenes were neatly choreographed, monkeys moving to well-chosen, contemporary music emphasising the urban, modern environment the adaptation was set. Many intricate stunts were carried out well, with the cast proving their able gymnastic abilities, along with their acting skills. The general acting of the cast was of a high standard, and special commendation should be given to Lotte Tickner, whose performance of the outcast Bagheera was remarkable, effectively portraying both her tough and sensitive sides.

Overall, Jungle was a clever, original adaptation of a book that has been revamped and modified over decades. As far from Disney as possible, Emily Roberts and Matthew Lister’s dark version of the much loved tale adequately conveyed some of the main themes of Kipling’s original: Mowgli’s isolation, Baloo (Fegus Simpson) and Bagheera’s complex relationship with the stolen boy and the uncontrollable rage of Shere Kahn. I highly enjoyed this unique production, and urge anyone who has ever watched or read The Jungle Book to go and see it, and observe how the ordinarily cheery, childish tale is utterly transformed into a story of darkness, deprivation and danger.

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