THE JUNGLE BOOK
CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
To talk of dramatisations of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is, of course, to talk of Wolfgang Reitherman’s famous film animation for Disney. Yet Kipling’s stories of the “mancub” Mowgli, who was taken from his village by the tiger Shere Khan and raised in the jungle by wolves, were merely the “inspiration” for the movie’s team of writers. If it’s a more faithful adaptation of the tales you’re looking for, then prolific Scottish dramatist Stuart Paterson’s stage play is just the ticket.
First produced in 2005, and toured, with considerable success, by the Birmingham Stage Company, Paterson’s play-with-songs has been revived for Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre in a new production by acclaimed director Nikolai Foster. The result is a classy and nuanced piece of children’s theatre which reminds us that talking animals needn’t merely be the cute and comic characters of present or coming animated Hollywood attractions (from Frozen to Free Birds).
From the moment we encounter Jake Davies’s, Estuary-accented Mowgli, wolf-howling as he makes his way through the Indian jungle, Foster’s presentation wears the mark of quality. Davies plays the mancub with a perfect combination of fearless energy, naivety and vulnerability, all the better to contrast with Lanre Malaolu’s splendidly malevolent Shere Khan, who is still intent on eating the boy he stole as an infant.
In the midst of a universally brilliant cast, Obioma Ugoala’s charming rendering of Mowgli’s friend and protector, Baloo the bear, is an avuncular and comic joy. Meanwhile Elexi Walker, as Kaa the snake, is appropriately sinister-yet-sympathetic; not least when, to the conspicuous pleasure of the schoolchildren in the audience, she makes her way into the stalls and decides to eat a teacher.
Enigmatically named designer ‘takis’ has created intelligently evocative costumes and a colourful, abstract jungle set which is as striking in its utility as in its visual impact. When, for instance, Mowgli finds himself in the Monkey Palace, its denizens (wearing sporty clothes and subtly disquieting masks) bounce around him wildly courtesy of a trampoline secreted in the set.
The music and songs, by BB Cooper and Barb Jungr, are arranged here by Sarah Travis, to great effect. Whether it’s Baloo playing the clarinet, Jorell Coiffic-Kamall’s rapping panther Bagheera or a mini-orchestra of sprightly frogs, the excellent live music epitomises a stylish and accomplished Christmas show.
At Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until January 5. For further information, visit: http://www.citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 6, 2013
© Mark Brown