In the jungle, the mighty jungle, Jessica Swale (writer) tells an energetic remastering of Rudyard Kipling’s story. It’s fresh and it’s new and it leaves Disney in the dust, even rejecting to make use of the soundtrack we all associate with the 1967 classic. Not to worry though, it’s still a musical and John Stilgoe (composer) has paired witty lyrics and catchy melodies that will not disappoint even the biggest of Jungle Book fans.
The Children’s Touring Partnership exhibited this tale with an incredibly talented cast, and it was wonderful to see the five-actor musicians among them bring the musical accompaniment with them on stage. Building upon just two of Kipling’s collection of short stories, there had been obvious consideration as to how these stories would be made modern and relevant to the twenty-first century. As a result, the jokes and puns littered throughout never failed to miss the mark, and had an audience of all ages laughing from start to finish. The band of monkeys were called the “funkies”, for example, and satirised teen culture whilst throwing in a brilliantly silly dose of toilet humour. It was also pleasing to see that women had been cast as Mowgli (Keziah Joseph) and Bagheera (Deborah Oyelade), making for a better-balanced tale in terms of gender than expected, considering the male voices most often adopted for their character in adaptations.
Another thing that cannot go unmentioned is the magnificent costume and set design. The rotating stage platform was cleverly used to keep the pace of the performance; it really did feel as if we were watching a chase, a hunt, or a journey to the Man Village. A frame-like wooden structure of planks and ladders stood in the centre of this and literally took the action up a level. This was expertly used, with Mowgli climbing to scary heights, constantly reminding us that this wouldn’t have been The Jungle Book without treetop scenes. Similarly clever was the costume given to Rachel Dawson, the actor who played Kaa, the snake. With her legs leading into a tail several metres long, wonderfully glittery and around a foot in diameter, she had to have stagehands to carry herself around. A huge logistical challenge but an equally huge success, her presence led to an amazing scene that otherwise threatened to fall flat in comparison to the striking choreography of the rest of the show.
If there was to be one downside to the performance, it was the absence of elephants in the show. But really, to say it was lacking would be to do The Children’s Touring Partnership a grave injustice. Inventive, imaginative, and musically remarkable; it will be exciting to see what they have to offer next.
The Jungle Book is being played at the Norwich Theatre Royal from Tuesday 10th – Saturday 14th April.