The Jungle Book

Jessica Swale
Royal and Derngate and Children’s Touring Partnership
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Keziah Joseph as Mowgli Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Funkeys Credit: Manuel Harlan
Dyfrig Morris as Balloo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Rudyard Kipling’s iconic tale of the wild meets the urban jungle in Jessica Swale’s colourful comic musical adaption.

Peter McKintosh’s simple extensive wooden climbing frame rotates centre stage as Indian village, Council Rock and all points between allowing actors and musicians to wander, climb, swing and strut while ladders hang like creepers and a metal bucket beehive teems with honey.

Nick Barnes’s puppets are beautifully brought to life—particularly Mowgli’s transition from baby to young man—and Joe Stilgoe’s score births 12 catchy tunes which are performed with live music from a multi-talented cast meandering with strings and percussion, and Diogo Gomes on the xylophone.

A hybrid of pantomime and am dram, Swale’s version soon shakes free of the much-loved Disney version and doesn’t flinch from the less savoury red-in-tooth-and-claw moments with Akela’s death, a beautifully choreographed deer hunt and the tiger’s passion for raw food complete with hair and legs.

Swale shoehorns an overriding message of diversity and celebration of difference with the ‘perfect family' a boy, a panther, a bear and plenty of four-legged cousins into classic Kipling.

There are shaggy, howling wolves (with crutches as front legs), farting funkeys (rapping, hip hop, bogie-eating gangsta monkeys), 176-skins-old glitzy green snake and a soaring kite populating this jungle as multi-tasking she-cat Bagheera (Deborah Oyelade) tutors the burgeoning man cub and an ever-hungry, bumpkin bear (Dyfrig Morris) sings the Balloos.

Lloyd Gorman is slinky baddie Shere Khan, all attitude, posturing and sparkly jumpsuit provoking the compulsion to boo and hiss on sight while Keziah Joseph makes an endearing Mowgli, learning the hard way that he is not a hyper-mobile, double-jointed circus wolf but instead a leaky-faced, gappy-pawed man complete with funny baldy bits. Different may be scary but where fleet of foot may be lacking, good eyesight, ability to climb and to pull thorns from paws—not to mention the ability to carry the red flower—more than makes up.

Fast and funny, short (one hour 55 minutes including an interval long enough for both an ice cream and toilet visit) and pitched just right for the kids, it’s ideal for a family outing.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell