If you are looking for a family-friendly show that everyone can enjoy this Easter, then look no further than this musical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book! Written by Jessica Swale with music by Joe Stilgoe, this production, which was first performed in 2017, is a very creative retelling of the story we all know: Mowgli, a man cub, is raised in the jungle as part of a wolf pack after his father is killed by the tiger, Shere Khan. We follow Mowgli as he grows up and learns to recognise all the wonderful things that make him unique, and then as he finds his courage to follow his true path.
Performed by a cast of just seven, this musical has everything you could want, from drama and tension, to comedy and friendship. Stilgoe’s music reminds the audience of the songs from the Disney classic but provides important storytelling moments rather than just song and dance breaks. Despite the fact that the story felt somehow unbalanced between the two acts and was perhaps a little slow to get going, I was thoroughly invested by the end and intrigued to know how this particular version of the story would play out.
There were many elements of the production that I enjoyed – not least the set by Katie Scott, which evokes an urban jungle as much as a real one, and which provides lots of opportunities for the actors to make creative entrances and exits to and from the stage. Make sure that you sit towards the middle of the auditorium to appreciate this fully. I thought the costumes were also well designed to show the vibrant diversity of the jungle… though it was a little jarring initially to the pragmatic adult in me that Shere Khan (Gareth Morgan) was wearing more leopard print than tiger stripes!
For me though, it was the movement that was truly outstanding, under the guidance of movement director Stuart Bowden. The actors seemed to have boundless energy and had clearly all worked very hard on their characterisation of the animals they played, especially those playing multiple animals! A special recognition must go to Sam Yetunde as Bagheera who genuinely seemed to turn into a panther at times, and Tamara Verhoven Clyde in her professional debut as Akeela, Kaa & Leela.
There are moments in this production that echo a pantomime, as the characters periodically interact with the audience and Baloo joins two of the monkeys for a post-interval song; which my inner child fully embraced! The director, Sarah Punshon, has done a really good job of balancing the humour with the darker elements of the story, to make sure that there is something for everyone.
This long-awaited production of The Jungle Book is playing at the Oldham Coliseum until Sunday 24th April. More information and tickets can be found here: https://www.coliseum.org.uk/spektrix/spektrix-events/the-jungle-book/
Reviewer: Jo Tillotson
Reviewed: 8th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★