Tuesday, May 28

Life of Pi – Wolverhampton Grand

I remember reading Yann Martel’s dazzling Booker-prize-winning novel “Life of Pi” in a youth hostel in San Francisco and being so consumed with it I nearly missed a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. It really is a cracking novel and such a wonderful whirl of magic realism and bright, laugh out loud comedy. I dodged the film when it came out in case it spoiled my memories of the book, so it was with some trepidation I approached the stage version. I needn’t have worried.

Piscine “Pi” Patel is the son of a Pondicherry zoo keeper who tells a tall, but convincing, tale of surviving days adrift in open sea with only a Bengal tiger for company. A Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, no less. The playwright Lolita Chakrabarti takes the story and deftly reassembles the narrative into a spectacular stage rendition with puppets to rival Warhorse and an ensemble of deft and diverse players. But is Pi telling a true story or is it an unreliable narrative of hope, delusion and survivor guilt? Are these tales affectations of his imagination comforting him through his trauma or did they really happen?

Photo: Johan Persson

The play offers a beautiful blend of philosophy, religious and pragmatism woven through with poetic imagery and joyous moments of humanity. Divesh Subaskaran nails the title role, and his storytelling enchants the audience and, hardly off stage throughout, he proves himself an outstanding player. The ensemble cast play the remaining parts both human and animal, but it is Sebastian Goffin, Akash Heer, and Tom Stacy as various parts of the hugely convincing Richard Parker who are your real stars.

The glorious puppetry is complemented by stunning lights and sound and visual effects turning the stage into a ship, a desert, an ocean with uncanny accuracy while the actors manipulate the physical set simultaneously operating the giraffes, the turtle, the hyenas and some very endearing fish.

The entire production, gorgeously imagined and directed by Max Webster, is an ethereal mixture of personal insight, family politics, psychological acumen and a sprinkling of universal wisdom. The story is multi-cultural and universal challenge to our concepts of God in all His, Her, Their perceived manifestations. Pi, in an attempt to understand the universe, signs up for Church, Temple and Mosque in a hope one of them will provide answers. But they really answers are found far out at sea, alone with a tiger named Richard Parker… or are they?

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 23rd April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.