Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book was first published in 1894. It is a strange and wonderful book that deals with the relationships between animals (which talk) and the humans around them.
Since its publication in 1894, it has been interpreted in film and on stage many times. Perhaps the most influential of these is the 1967 Disney film which had Kipling’s animals singing and dancing to trad jazz.
When I think of Baloo I can’t help but think of the big grey bear teaching Mowgli about “The Bare Necessities”. However, this wonderful new production has convinced me that there is more to Kipling’s story than can be captured in any single interpretation.
Music remains the at the heart of this production and Joe Stilgoe’s score is excellent. There are some clever nods to the trad jazz of the ’67 film such as in Baloo’s catchy “Size of the Sun”, but the music has also drawn on a much wider range of influences. Mowgli’s “Who I Am” manages to combine an upbeat pop feel with an exotic feel reminiscent of Laura Mvula.
The overall effect is to bring the Jungle Book right up to date. The Bandar-log monkeys are a wonderfully mischievous crew of rappers (watch out if you are in the front row!!) and are full of contemporary slang and fart jokes.
Dyfrig Morris’ Baloo has become a wayward but jolly lay-about who spends “too much time at the watering hole” – and has a lovely booming bear-like baritone voice. Deborah Oyelade’s Begheera is full of sassy charm. And Lloyd Gorman’s Shere Khan is a larger than life cross between Freddy Mercury and Donald Trump (in leather).
Keziah Joseph brings a wonderful sensitivity and charm to the role of Mowgli, both when she manipulates the baby-Mowgli puppets and when she is climbing through the forest of green ladders. And of course, in her struggle to be accepted by the wolf-pack headed by Tripti Tripuraneni’s excellent Akela.
The deeper themes that run through the Jungle Book – of identity, the acceptance of difference, and of belonging – are explored very intelligently but never without the comic relief needed to keep the story fresh.
This is well worth a look whether you are a seasoned veteran of Jungle Book stories or a younger person coming to them for the first time.
The show runs over the weekend of 28th and 29th April.
Worth watching. Trussssst me.