‘The Jungle Book’ by Rudyard Kipling, adapted by Jessica Swale
Malvern Theatres, March 13
Review by Lee Farley
KIPLING’s classic 1894 story has been adapted many times for stage and screen.
Most people will remember the Disney version with its iconic songs and groundbreaking animation. Jessica Swale’s adaptation brings a modern perspective, celebrating diversity and exploring identity in this fantastic, vibrant production.
To help me write this review, I was accompanied by two members of Perfect Circle Youth Theatre. All of us were enchanted by this production. We jumped out of our seats at the first appearance of Shere Khan, we tapped our feet to the terrific original songs, we laughed at the mischievous behaviour of the monkeys. Joe enjoyed the audience participation in the monkey scene, although he said, “I’m glad they didn’t choose me, I’d have hid under the seat.”
We were all entertained by the comic antics of Dyfrig Morris’ Baloo, and we were impressed by the cast’s ability to sing, act, dance, and play instruments. Sometimes all at the same time. The live music – Anaya thought it was “very jazzy” – creates a compelling rhythm and energy and features some excellent songs composed by Joe Stilgoe. We loved Mowgli’s repeated “A-ooo” refrain, apologies to anyone who heard our noisy, off-key rendition in the interval. Keziah Joseph is sensational as Mowgli. She displays consummate puppetry skills in addition to warmth, exuberance, pathos and bravery. Mowgli’s journey is key to this adaptation’s focus on the theme of self-discovery. We empathise with Mowgli, and without this compassion the production would be far less effective.
The set features a revolve, and a climbing frame made from ladders and ropes. This robust design gives Max Webster’s tremendous direction plenty of scope for movement and levels – perfect for the fast-moving tale of jungle life. There’s exemplary use of puppets and key props like the bowl of ‘red flower’ Mowgli uses to scare Shere Khan. Anaya and Joe were impressed by the use of real fire, if slightly fearful for the actors’ costumes.
Jessica Swale’s adaptation is a welcome celebration of diversity. We begin and end with a song featuring the lines “same sun, same moon”. The animals in the jungle are different, they have different rules, different cultures. But they find a way of living together through kindness and understanding. I was very moved by this production, the brilliant, dynamic ensemble cast are sharing a lot of love in addition to their undoubted performance skills. I found myself welling up near the end, although Joe and Anaya assured me that nobody would have noticed.
Even if it’s a familiar tale, this production brings an innovative and invigorating perspective to the jungle. It has an optimistic, contemporary perspective. We all agreed we would definitely go to see it again. At Malvern Theatres until Saturday. All of us highly recommend you go and see it!