Keziah Joseph as Mowgli – photos by Manuel Harlan
Rudyard Kipling is often seen as an exemplar of the English spirit but was born in Bombay in India (now Mumbai) and wrote his most well known works, the Jungle Book stories, while living in America. His early life in India and his global peregrinations undoubtedly contributed to the clarity of moral tone in his work, exemplified in the anthropomorphised tale of Mowgli, the man-child raised by jungle wolves.
This week at the Norwich Theatre Royal Kipling’s tales are brought to life in a stunning and lively production from The Children’s Touring Partnership. Aimed at families the show starts at 7pm, and with all these dangerous jungle animals about you won’t want to be late to your seats! Writer Jessica Swale has gone back to Kipling’s original stories but re-tells them in a modern voice that uses terms that youngsters will immediately know, and sometimes have to explain to the slightly older amongst us. This is a show with music, rather than a musical – there are songs and lively musical backgrounds to build the atmosphere, but the tale is told in the dialogue, not the songs.
The music is written for the show by composer Joe Stilgoe, with various members of the cast doubling up on the instruments and the capable Portuguese percussionist Diogo Gomes helping to keep the jungle atmosphere going.
The infant Mowgli is lost in the jungle following the death of his father, but a friendly pack of wolves adopt and raise the child as one of their own, with the help of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther. They face the constant threat from the tiger Shere Khan, who is determined to kill and eat the man child Mowgli in revenge for man’s attacks on him.
Mowgli is brilliantly portrayed by Keziah Joseph. She jumps around all over the complex set where numerous ladders stand in for the high trees of the jungle. Keziah has several credits for a young performer, even including a stint in The Archers as Dan’s girlfriend Dorothy. She has just the right demeanour for the slightly naughty but good-hearted Mowgli, who increasingly realises how out of place he is in his adopted community, yet knows little else. The bumbling Baloo is played with great gusto, and a fine singing voice, by Dyfrig Morris, with Deborah Oyelade as his spiky feline sidekick Bagheera. The wolf pack is led of course by Akela (Tripti Tripuraneni) and collectively they look as if they had escaped from a Kajagoogoo concert in the 1980s but with a rather clever take on walking on all fours.
The looming dark and dangerous presence of Shere Khan is never far away in the form of Lloyd Gorman, clearly relishing his role as the villain. Lloyd is coming home, having learned his craft from the Theatre Royal tutor David Lambert and you may remember him from the enjoyable kids panto Cinderella at The Garage a couple of years back. At the very least Lloyd must be a favourite for a theatre Royal panto baddie in years to come.
Mowgli gets into all sorts of adventures including a spell with the Bandar Log monkeys, who behave like, well, monkeys! The show has some clear messages for the young audience, covering gender roles, acceptance of difference and diversity and an overall understanding of how the rules of society can bind us together and engender respect, but it is not as heavy handed and preachy as the Kipling tales were originally written. Survival in this jungle means understanding the language of the other creatures, and working with them not striking out on your own. Yet Mowgli slowly understands that he is a man, not a wolf-cub, so is drawn towards finding the company of his own kind.
It took me a few minutes at the start to figure out who was who, but as soon as you do you will be captivated by this classic piece of storytelling magic, presented in a lively way by a cast who look as though they are having great fun while they jumping around the stage and off it occasionally! This is no soft-centred Disney version of Kipling, it is much better than that!
Kids will be kept amused and wide awake throughout this show which is well timed and just the right length. It helps to remind us of the genius of Kipling as a storyteller, but it also helps us all understand the importance of treating every living creature with respect, whether we are familiar with their ways or not. A great little show.
© Julian Swainson 2018
The Jungle Book, Tuesday 10, Friday 13 and Saturday 14 April at 7pm, and Wednesday 11-Saturday 14 April at 2.30pm. Tickets £10-£23. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Under-18s, Over-60s, and Groups. Audio-described and signed performance on Saturday 14 April at 2.30pm.
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.
Read more in our earlier article here: http://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/imaginative-version-of-classic-novel-set-to-delight-norwich-audiences/