Twisting the colourful Disney version of The Jungle Book, reproducing the grimness of Rudyard Kipling’s classic, interpolating it with live rap music, grime, reggae and spoken word, the Highrise present a dynamic and reverberating Hip-hop musical The Concrete Jungle Book at the Pleasance. Written and directed by Dominic Garfield, the play explores homelessness, abandonment, and survival in a concrete jungle where “there’s no fair when there’s hunger in the air…”
Set on the streets of London, the opening scene invites the audience into a run-down, dark, sketchy neighbourhood with a pulsating score often drowning the words of the actors. Nonetheless, their performance energy and commitment to the ensemble successfully transports the audience into a surreal world created brilliantly by juxtaposing the animality of the jungle within a concrete city.
Originally developed with the young people from Centrepoint, the youth homelessness charity, it was taken to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 where it received high critical acclaim. The classic story of Mowgli lends itself quite organically to the struggles of Mo (played by Lauryn Louise in this show), a young person living on the streets of London with little or no support and guidance falling prey to the harsh realities of a dangerous world. The play showcased minor incongruities in action and sound. However, the unfortunate injury of Nicky Rose Roshini, the lead actor, hours before the performance and her replacement with Lauryn Louise with a couple of hours to rehearse explained the minor occasions of disharmony in action scenes and vocals in an otherwise spectacular show. Kudos to the team to carry on with the ensemble despite such an unfortunate mishap on the press night!
Lesley Rietta Cobbina (Baloo and Miss Matthews) and Joseph Ra Lindsay (Bagheera) gave compelling performances and their relationship with Mo is affectionate and comical. The other performers Jack Boal, Michael Mbozo, Ché Gordon, Che Campbell and the assistant director Fahd Shaft who stepped into the ensemble, brought to life multiple characters with Gordon making his professional acting debut with this performance. The choice of retaining animality with animalistic movements, growls and howls brought out the ruggedness of living on the streets. It was skillfully performed by the entire cast under the movement direction of Yami Löfvenberg.
The loud sound often drowned the lyrics, but the fervour of the performers emoted the vibe of the scene. Alex Fernandes’ lights magnified the energy of the performance and Ethan Cheek’s revolving set was artistically and expertly used to support the play. Alice McNicholas’ costumes beautifully represented the animal-character-types with Bagheera’s black tracksuit and Baloo’s fur coat.
Besides an exceptional performance and plot, the ensemble’s communal spirit and enthusiasm were highly cheered by the audience. Appealing to both old and young audiences, the play is energetic, entertaining and highly relevant.
Playing until 11 June, https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/concrete-jungle-book-0#overview
Reviewer: Khushboo Shah
Reviewed: 1st June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★