Monday, July 15

Life of Pi – Festival Theatre

Life of Pi at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre is a treat for the senses. Based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name,  the action commences in a bleak, bare hospital ward where Pi (Sonya Venugopal) is hiding under the bed. The clever use of projection (Andrzej Goulding) and sound effects (Carolyn Downing) indicate time and place. It is set pre-computerisation, so letters appear on the wall as if from a typewriter with suitable tap, tap, tap reverberations.

As soon as recollections flood the stage, this grey, sterile room transforms seamlessly into a verdant, noisy zoo in India; a colourful Bazaar; and a ship’s deck without effort – as if by magic. Before you know it, the transformation has happened: we are adrift upon an ocean with no land in sight and several dangerous animals for company. This suits the themes of faith, trust in the unfamiliar and belief in something greater than oneself.

I cannot applaud the techies enough. Without Tim Hatley’s adaptable and very apt set, or Andrew T Mackay’s wonderful music this production would have been impossible. Moreover, the lighting is superb, thanks to Tim Lutkin and Tim Deiling. I particularly marveled at the final scene. Needless to say, the puppetry by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell is outstanding. As are the puppeteers themselves. Sebastian Goffin manipulated the tiger’s head on the evening I attended.

Photo: Johan Persson

I love it when you witness a piece of collaborative art where each piece of the jigsaw creates the entire whole. Again, this feeds into the novel’s themes: all faiths have their merits and are strikingly similar; what is life if there is no belief – no mystery and magic? And we are all truly interdependent regardless of the story we tell.

Life of Pi is an uplifting and magical tale. Realism is replaced with an astonishing and implausible tale of survival not only as a castaway, but a castaway with wild animals to contend with on board.

Mankind and womankind yearn for challenge and for a lasting, heroic, spectacular story about their life and their struggles. It is what makes us human. We can’t all be castaways at sea – ours may be a small life with everyday challenges, but challenges none-the-less. Our personal stories are the warp and weft of life’s endless stories, our legacies, and these tales inform our endless beliefs and faith.

This beautifully created, magical piece of theatre tackles the big questions with skill and teamwork.

Within the programme, the danger of wild animals is emphasised. I have to admit that the horror of killing and eating other living creatures did not come across with the terror and repulsion that might have been expressed in the novel. It is a big ask to expect an actor to fight with a puppet and make it look as fearful and dangerous as the text requires.

However, I have to commend Venugopal for her nimble athleticism, which added greatly to the appeal of the piece.

Reviewer: Kathleen Mansfield

Reviewed: 26th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.