Having never read Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories, commonly known as ‘The Jungle Book’, my only knowledge of the stories are from watching Walt Disney’s version on VHS as a child. Ahead of the show, I was looking forward to singing along to toe-tapping classics – namely ‘The Bare Necessities’, but then I remembered that this was to be no Disney production and a brand new adaptation with a newly composed score. As a result, I was unsure what to expect from this new production by Jessica Swale.
The Jungle Book at The Lowry, Manchester
(This month’s theatre review is brought to you by my fiancé, John, who was invited to attend The Lowry, Manchester, on my behalf on Tuesday 2nd May.)
Arriving at The Lowry, Manchester slightly early on Tuesday evening, I took the opportunity to read the programme and reacquaint myself with the story. If you’re as rusty as me, here’s a brief synopsis:
“Mowgli the man cub battles for survival in this heartwarming coming-of-age story about a boy raised by wolves in the jungle. With the help of his animal friends… Mowgli outwits the cruel and powerful tiger, Shere Khan, and learns the law of the jungle.”
The show opens to reveal a modern stage set of bamboo ladders inviting the viewer to imagine his/her own jungle setting. The cast take centre stage to operate a rag doll child who we learn to be baby Mowgli. Stiff and lifeless, he is suddenly brought to life by the excellent lead actress, Keziah Joseph. Mesmerising, I found it to be an effective way of showing the life cycle of Mowgli from small child to adolescent.
The set has a modern flavour to it and gives this jungle a modern urban feel. The set is simple to allow the view to place themselves in an imaginary setting. The newly written songs, by Joe Stilgoe, are expertly sang and catchy (so much so that I found myself singing them on the way home). The addition of the revolving stage really allow for rhythm and movement to the show.
The Jungle Book Cast & Performance
It is with credit to the cast that their re-imagined characters bring comedy and laugh-out-loud gags to the production. The cheeky farting monkey gang (adult members of the audience may draw comparison with nineties band, The Bloodhound Gang) offer light, childish humour with select jokes intended only for the adults of the audience. While the use of phrases such as ‘OMG’ and ‘amazeballs’ are definitely contemporary inclusions which highlight Jessica’s Swale’s attempt to bring to show into the 21st century.
While we try not to draw similarities with Disney’s version, one similarity is the audience’s affection for Baloo the bear. Just like the film, Baloo is a larger than life and lovable character whose character is again, built through the use of humour and song. Interesting, Morris not only plays the part of Baloo but is also part of the production’s live musicians.
Shere Khan, played by Lloyd Gorman, was by far my favourite character. Gorman struts around the stage like a over-indulged rock star in a leather tiger jumpsuit that Elvis Presley would have been proud of. His performance in parts is hilarious to both adults and children with modern references varying from his disdain for avocado to vegans. Not only humorous, Khan’s musical performances are pitch perfect.
The show has a very contemporary feel about it making it very appealing to a younger family audience. The show is recommended for children and families however at just under two hours long the show could be a little long for some younger children. The show has also found a great balance of being both entertaining for children and adults alike. Modern themes and a diverse cast bring this production up to date with a positive message.