The Lowry, Salford – until Sunday May 6th 2018
Reviewed by Julie Noller
Rudyard Kipling wrote his tale of man cub Mowgli in 1894, it was the story of a lost boy and his journey through life with the help of the jungle creatures. Over a hundred years later and it’s still a much loved story following mans inhumanity and his willingness to survive against all odds. I’m sure Rudyard Kipling never imagined that Walt Disney would work his cartoon magic; the version of his classic many of us are familiar with, the same could be said for tonights performance by The Children’s Touring Partnership alongside Royal and Derngate Northampton, a classic in the making. Jessica Swale and Joe Stilgoe as writer, composer and lyricists have worked their very own brand of magic to bring a new adaption to the stage. There is no age limit for this performance, old and young will all be drawn into the magical jungle world unfurling on stage. It’s funny in a basic down to earth, let’s just laugh way. It has spine chilling music, songs that you sway and clap along to.
We all know our favourite characters and they’re all there ticked off in The Jungle Book register. I admit to being confused when we first meet Mowgli being tucked in by his Mother as she sings him to sleep. He cradles his teddy bear and next we know the wolves are circling, the bed has gone and Mowgli is all alone. I wondered why the teddy bear was crying out and giggling and then realisation dawned I wasn’t looking at Mowgli and teddy bear but just Mowgli for Keziah Joseph was showing great skill as a puppet master, of course Mowgli was just a baby. Keziah Joseph brings Mowgli’s feisty nature and impetuousness to life as a young boy developing and moving towards adulthood. She sings and climbs around a fantastic adult playgroundesque set in a way Mowgli’s fellow wolf cubs can only watch in awe and wonder, I even looked on in envy, much like the kid at school who isn’t allowed to play and run with everyone else. The Wolf pack itself led by Tripti Tripuraneni as the ever watchful and wise Akela, welcomes Mowgli in as one of it’s own – the wolves dance, sing and howl around the stage swishing their tails and using a handy tool of two walking sticks each to cleverly give the impression of four legs better than two. Rachel Dawson is Mowgli’s best friend cub and believer Grey she also plays Kaa a rather larger and glittery Indian Python who despite not having hypnotic eyes whilst leading Mowgli astray does manage to aid his escape from the monkeys or should that be the funkies. Our pack of monkeys who resemble a west side posse, even venture into the audience, trying on jackets and attempting to find the elusive banana. They are desperate to be accepted and liked by the self proclaimed king of the jungle, the royal Bengal tiger called Shere Khan brilliantly portrayed by Lloyd Gorman who was rather a Keith Lemon meets Elvis kind of guy. His costume stood out as glitzy, his Elvis look of tight leather pants, quiffed hair, guyliner and Khan on the back of his jacket, rather like he should be entering into the boxing ring. It’s just one of many fantastically funny touches that make this a five star show.
The heroes of the performance who stood up for the man cub and thus invoking jungle law, in order to stop Shere Khan , Bagheera (Deborah Oyelade) the stealthy black panther (I’ve tried many times to watch the black panther at the zoo and know how easily it can hide in plain sight) she obviously takes inspiration from Eartha Kitts catwoman, she is strong and fiercely proud of being a woman she sounds like a princess from Wakanda but has a strong maternal side when it comes to teaching Mowgli the jungle laws and ways. In sharp contrast to Balloo (Dyfrig Morris) whose costume of furry tramp/clown dungarees helps us to understand this lovable rogue. Always looking for his next honey pot, it is Balloo who welcomes us back into our seats after the interval singing to us about sweets and fizzy pop all whilst starving and being extremely very thirsty (if I hadn’t been mid row I may just have thrown him a chocolate bar from a well known dietary lifestyle change) You know despite his bumbling ways he has Mowgli’s best interests at heart.
You want time to stand still, for Mowgli not to grow up, live for ever more as a man cub within the wolf pack. But time doesn’t and Mowgli makes the difficult decision to return to the man village. He steals the red flower which the animals tell him only man is not afraid of. Finally using both his intelligence, agility and animal courage to defeat Shere Khan once and for all. Encountering a local woman Mowgli finds himself torn, drawn to her but not understanding he feels pain in his chest and wonders why his eyes are leaking water down his face, a wonderfully sensitive, charming and once again humorous way to deal with sadness and emotion. It’s fair to say I loved this musical version of a well loved tale, I hummed and clapped along, laughed but above all I left with a huge smile as I’m sure did all the audience.