Jungle Book reimagined

Breathtaking projections of animation by YeastCulture steal this show and a set which is largely conveyed by lighting. What promises to be a magnificent production sadly does not live up to it. Since Akram Khan played Mowgli as a 10-year-old in Peter Brooke’s The Adventures of Mowgli, this dance production Jungle Book Reimagined must mean much to him. Here Rudyard Kipling is refashioned as a morality tale about our disconnect with nature, both the mistreatment of animals and the planet’s impending ecological disaster of rising seas; it is timely subject matter. With music by Jocelyn Pook, both contemporary and Indian influences melded and a voice-over script by Tariq Jordan, it should have had everything going for it.

The cast are to be congratulated on their immaculate precision as an ensemble

Driving rain and rising seas are a dramatic start, refugees huddled on rafts as the world’s towers and steeples drown including Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, and Mowgli, a girl in this version, falls into a polluted sea, past floating tin cans and most relevant, masks, only to be rescued by a whale. On dry land she is deposited amongst a pack of wolves. So far, it is brilliant. But this gives way to lacklustre choreography, much sinuous movement, animal-like movement from the wolves but becoming repetitive and all at a low level on the stage’s floor, monotonous. The story takes an age to get going.

However, the choreography improves as the story takes off. The cast are to be congratulated on their immaculate precision as an ensemble, moving as one, much swaying from side to side, arms splayed over bent bodies, rising and falling, with only a suggestion of Kathak whilst miming to the pre-recorded voice-overs. Wearing baggy-trousers this aided the wide-legged plieés Indian-style, but the costumes are rather murky. No doubt it was intentional to distance itself from Disney’s Lion King but different animals are hard to distinguish apart from the bravura performance of Baloo the bear by Tom Davis-Dunn, his muscular frame perfect, hunched stance, lumbering walk, swaying and sniffing the air. Bagheera, the panther, is not given enough to do to stand out, the python Kaa, portrayed by cardboard boxes is enjoyable and surprisingly snake-like, the eyes lit up on the front box but seems out of place when no other animals are portrayed by boxes. However, his hiss and the Hannibal Lecter slurp are spine-chilling.

A complicated plot ensues where Mowgli is supposed to help the traumatised animals, monkeys who have escaped from research laboratories and Kaa who has escaped from a zoo but is psychologically damaged by being behind glass. It is Baloo who comes to Kaa’s rescue though. Mowgli has little to do but wander around carrying the box her mother gave her. When opened it is supposed to reveal her ‘identity’. Goodness knows how that symbolism works. It feels like one more currently fashionable issue crammed in too far. A lone hunter stalks the animals and gets his comeuppance, so there’s plenty of plot in the second half but does little to relieve the tedium of the choreography and monotonous music. To be fair, the end of each act culminates in moving songs in Indian style. Towards the end there is a rendition of the Agnus Dei and a fragment from a requiem mass which add an elegiac depth.

This is definitely not a show for children despite being billed for over 10s. Unmemorable animals (apart from Baloo), lack of pace, a heavy moralising tone to the voice overs and each dance far too long drawn out to dirge-like music. Such a shame. And yet there is so much to admire. Those giant elephant animations sauntering across the stage will stay with me. This could be a wonderful show with some judicious editing.

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Reviews by Stephanie Green

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The Blurb

Discover a new retelling of Kipling’s classic as the Akram Khan company transplant Mowgli’s journey into the modern world.

Following the success of 2018’s XENOS, internationally celebrated choreographer and International Festival favourite Akram Khan makes his return to the Festival Theatre, with a magical dance retelling of Kipling’s family classic.

Akram Khan and his team use dance-theatre to reinvent the journey of Mowgli through the eyes of a climate refugee. In a near future world, a family is torn apart as they escape their homeland, ravaged by the impact of extreme weather. Arriving alone in a deserted modern city, and with wild animals claiming the streets as their own, the child soon discovers unlikely allies in this strange new jungle.

Featuring an original score, ten international dancers and state-of-the-art animation and visuals, Jungle Book reimagined is a beautifully compelling and vital piece of storytelling.

It speaks to our intrinsic need to belong and bond with others, placing the importance of connecting with and respecting our natural world at its heart.

Jungle Book reimagined brings together a stellar creative team, with script by Tariq Jordan, dramaturgy by Sharon Clark and original score by Jocelyn Pook. With sound design by Gareth Fry, lighting by Michael Hulls, visual stage design by Miriam Buether and video design and animation by YeastCulture, the visual technology will turn the stage into a magical world that dives into the myths of today.

Recommended for all generations of audiences from 8 upwards.

A touch tour for this production is available before the 2.30pm performance on 28 August.

Supported by Claire and Mark Urquhart

Akram Khan Company

Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling

An Edinburgh International Festival co-production

Akram Khan Director/Choreographer
Mavin Khoo Creative Associate/Coach
Tariq Jordan
Sharon Clark Dramaturgical Advisor
Jocelyn Pook
Gareth Fry
Sound Designer
Michael Hulls
Lighting Designer
Miriam Buether
Visual Stage Designer
Adam Smith (YeastCulture)
Art Direction and Director of Animation
Nick Hillel (YeastCulture)
Producer/Director of Video Design
Naaman Azhari, Natasza Cetner, Edson R Bazzarin
Rotoscope Artists/Animators

Nicky Henshall, Andrew Pan, Angela Towler Rehearsal Directors

Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis-Dunn, Thomasin Gülgeç, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Pui Yung Shum, Fukiko Takase, Holly Vallis, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Luke Watson, Jan Mikaela Villanueva (guest artist) Dancers

Farooq Chaudhry Producing Director
Isabel Tamen Executive Director
Mashitah Omar
Project Manager

Co-produced by Curve Leicester, Birmingham Hippodrome, Edinburgh International Festival, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay Singapore, Festspielhaus St. Pölten, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, Maison de la Danse / Pôle européen de création – Lyon, National Arts Centre – Canada, New Vision Arts Festival – Hong Kong, Orsolina28, Pfalzbau Bühnen – Theater im Pfalzbau Ludwigshafen, Romaeuropa Festival, Sadler’s Wells London, Stanford Live / Stanford University, Teatros del Canal – Madrid, théâtre de Caen, Théâtre de la Ville – Paris

With the support of Garfield Weston Foundation, Genesis Foundation and Angela Bernstein CBE

Supported by Arts Council England

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