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The Jungle Book (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Jungle Book

Society: Chichester Festival Theatre (professional)

Venue: Chichester Festival Youth Theatre. Oaklands Way, Chichester PO19 6AP

Credits: By Rudyard Kipling. Adaptation by Sonali Bhattacharyya. Original songs by Ruth Chan.

The Jungle Book

3 stars

Photo: Johan Persson

It’s a story everyone knows so a new version has to present it with some fresh topical spin which is what Bhattacharyya’s script tries to do. We’re in a world where inclusion matters a lot  – and every animal matters – when Mowgli turns up. She’s played by Sarada Pillai and Thaaniya Nandakumar who alternate. I saw Sarada and she’s delightful – feisty but sensitive with lots of stage confidence.

As we work though the plot there are many big ensemble all-singing all-dancing numbers in which the young cast does pretty well.  Sadly, though, Ruth Chan’s music is generally unmemorable and sometimes samey except for an invigorating, energetic disco-type party held for Mowgli by the monkeys when the whole thing lifts off. It’s well played, however, by Collin Billings and his six piece out-of-sight band.

Everyone on stage is a specific, named animal and the costumes  designed by Ryan Dawson Laight are splendid. The loris has plastic glasses as big as tea plates, the mosquitoes have wings on their heads, the wolves have grey fur on their heads and shoulders and the buffalo have wonderful limbering horns. And all this is reflected in the nicely sustained movement work.

Although I don’t think this is the best Christmas show CFT youth theatre has presented in recent years, there were two unforgettable moments. First there’s Kaa, the snake, played with verve and talent by Spencer Dixon in the most glittery, sparkly costume I’ve ever seen. He writhes and purrs and it’s great fun. Second there’s a mini double act from a pair of porcupines (fabulous spiky outfits) with one making knowing post-modern comments on the other’s thoughts and it’s very funny.

A huge amount of work has gone into this show and, as ever, I find it moving and exciting to see young people achieving things. For example Jacob Isaacs, who looks very young, won a well deserved round of applause as the boy from village running away in panic from the village and screaming unflaggingly all the way up through the audience. And, at the other end of the age range, Freddie Lyons (who alterrnates with Luke Mechergui) as Shere Khan gets a good level of gravelly menace although in these days of tiger conservation, of course he doesn’t die at the end.

Another pleasing thing about a CFT Youth Theatre show is the inclusion of members of CFT Technical Youth Theatre and technical students from Chichester College as junior assistant stage managers, prop makes, costume assistants, wig, hair & make-up assistants, follow-spot operators and radio mic runners.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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