The Jungle Book
Adapted by Jessica Swale from stories by Rudyard Kipling. Music by Joe Stile
Royal & Derngate, Northampton; Children's Touring Partnership; Fiery Angel
Grand Theatre, Blackpool
It’s still a jungle out there, but, with just a few tweaks to Rudyard Kipling’s timeless tales, this remains a book with prolonged shelf life.
This latest stage adaptation is by garlanded writer Jessica Swale. In her programme notes, she talks of celebrating the book’s voice, politics and diversity, while the afternoon matinée audience around me seemed just as content with its noise, colour and excitement... as were their teachers.
So the Children’s Touring Partnership, along with other production companions, serves up a Jungle Book that manages to please audiences of most ages and persuasions.
Some of that will be due to familiarity with Disney’s animated incarnations of the story and its characters, even if they all get a distinct makeover here. And the ubiquitous composer Joe Stilgoe provides a brand new suite of songs that cleverly, and wittily, sound as if they have come straight off the screen version. Baloo singing the baloos? Genius!
With its revolve stage, theatrical effects and insistent drama, it occasionally resembles the National Theatre’s Hiawatha, of blessed memory.
Even here, in the final days of a five-month tour, the 11-strong cast give it full energy and commitment, several doubling up as musicians, or swapping roles between packs of wolves, or a bunch of very cheeky monkeys. Kipling’s view of their simian social habits, and bodily functions, would have been interesting!
Sometimes, his messages about loyalty, courage, respect, and other virtues, do get slightly clouded over by a fast and furious narrative. The language can also be more of a street-smart patois than user friendly.
But then this is a show that is at its best when it is principally about providing fun and enjoyment, and the ability of live theatre to feed the imagination.
With arts subjects about to be crossed off some school exams, there’s going to be even more need for a good Book like this.
Reviewer: David Upton