The Jungle Book

Anyone unfamiliar with Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book could have been conceivably raised by the same wolves that adopt man-cub Mowgli at the heart of this century-old collection of stories that have woven themselves into the consciousness of children around the world. Thanks, in no small part, to one Mr Walt Disney.

Props for offering up some real drama for kids, even if this brave choice doesn't always stay on the forest path.

It would have been easy for director James Haddrell to go down the route of a mid-Summer panto; cast Baloo as the dame and stuffed the merchandising stand with headache-inducing LED headwear, but instead (according to the programme notes), Haddrell – a fan of the book from his formative years – wanted to get closer to Kipling’s original stories where the jungle is a world of danger and “they must often fight to survive”. Props to him for offering up some real drama for kids, even if this brave choice doesn’t always stay on the forest path.

Pre-show the Bandar-log monkeys are roaming through audience stealing phones, jackets and just about anything you don’t have a firm grip on. This light-hearted introduction is a little at odds with the show itself, which is notably light on laughs. Tracey Power’s adaptation is very much ‘tell’ and not ‘show’, with some key moments such as the demise of Shere Khan being described rather than an attempt at staging. Ok, so a herd of buffaloes is a tricky ask on an Off-West End stage, but Mowgli’s exasperated narration didn’t quite work for me. The dense exposition also gives young minds a chance to wander, and as is probably inevitable for a show aimed at such a young age group, the cast were having to compete with an auditorium that was fidgeting, chattering and in some cases crying. Everyone’s a critic. But to give them their due, the majority of the kids stuck with it even if the average summary heard after the curtain went down was “I liked the tiger best”.

Stylistically there are some odd choices here. The beating heart of this jungle are the drums, played variously throughout the show – but the unamplified cast sometimes struggle to be understood over the rhythm. Tabaqui the jackal starts off with a South East London accent which places this rainforest somewhere just off of Lee High Street, but loses it only for it to reappear in the closing scenes. At one point Akela performs a rap. When I looked at my notes afterward you’ll forgive me if I didn’t quite figure out how it all ties together. Maybe I’m looking too deeply and should have instead trusted the enthusiastic applause at the end.

Reviews by Pete Shaw

Assembly George Square Studios

The House

★★★★★
theSpace on the Mile

Grace Notes

★★★
Greenwich Theatre

The Jungle Book

★★★
Greenwich Theatre

A Midsummer Night's Dream

★★★★
Multiple Venues

A Spoonful Of Sherman

★★★★★
Pleasance Theatre

Assassins

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

When the young Mowgli appears in the jungle, and Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther and Akela the wolf surround him to protect him from the attack of the tiger Shere Khan, none of them can possibly anticipate the series of adventures that lies ahead.

Endlessly pursued by the monkeys who want Mowgli to make them human, finding an uneasy alliance with the hypnotic snake Kaa and learning the devastating power of fire from the villages that surround the jungle, Mowgli will ultimately have to choose his place in the world.

The perfect summer treat for all the family, we proudly present the UK premiere of this dynamic adaptation of The Jungle Book, bringing Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale to the stage with thrilling percussion, vibrant puppetry and Kipling’s unforgettable, larger-than-life characters.