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Jungle Rumble at The Fortune Theatre | Review

Although it is appearing at the Fortune Theatre in the heart of the theatre district, Jungle Rumble is less a West End musical and more a piece of advertiser-funded content. This one-act musical – with a facile but pleasant moral about teamwork, overcoming shyness and how central-casting English imperialist hunters are really bad – is a showcase for Perform, who are purveyors of weekly theatre arts classes for children aged 4 to 12. As marketing goes, it’s a pretty clever endeavour: cast some credible working actors to put on a basic, entry-level production to start exposing youngers to the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd whilst giving out souvenir leaflets with a ¾ page ad encouraging families to take up a free sample class of the ‘confidence-building fun’ Perform has to offer whilst self-liquidating the promotional investment by charging (handsomely) for tickets.

Jungle RumbleTransforming the Fortune’s entire mezzanine bar into a buggy and micro-scooter park and staging back-to-back morning and early afternoon shows just off Drury Lane, it looks like Lucy Quick, company co-director of Perform, has a knack for brand-building. If the better-heeled/sharp-elbowed/well-intentioned good folks of the tonier suburbs want to build their offspring’s confidence (which of course theatre absolutely does), what better way to get hooked than a nursery slope morning in a proper West End theatre with a sort of Lion King-lite actually enacted by pros?

Well, maybe there are better ways to introduce your children to theatre. A last-minute deal for a non-peak showing of the actual Lion King on Lastminutetheatretickets.com, for example, can be obtained for £25 a head if you’re prepared not to be fussy about your seats or dates. A family trip to Jungle Rumble (granted a matinee and over the school holidays) wouldn’t leave any more change in your pocket than the real Disney deal but Perform gives you half the length, homespun costumes and a basic backdrop – compared to the legions of artisans creating the full-scale Disney splendour, also set in Africa with anthropomorphised animals but built on the sturdier backbone of Hamlet’s plot – and of course a full orchestra and memorable tunes. I suppose I should be grateful in a way, but there was no risk of an earworm from any of the samey sing-song numbers that came and went. This is not anthem-humming-on-the-way-home stuff.

Generally speaking, the touring productions of Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson or Judith Kerr adaptations are the ideal way to expose your toddler to Year 2 kids to theatre – largely because they start with a strong story and usually have reasonable musical values with inspiring, but simple, lighting and set features. Forgetting the highest strata of Minchin, Webber and the Disney canon, that next level down populated by one-hour staged Gruffallos and Tigers (who come to tea) usually grabs the audience a little more. Why? Because they are intrinsically more theatrical and less of an infomercial for Saturday stage school. Of course, I would have been throwing roses on the stage as I stomped for 20 curtain calls were it my own children treading the boards with this material and I therefore suspect this amuse-bouche of some okay original IP with some okay musicality rendered by a proper cast is designed to plant exactly that image. As plays go, my kids were mildly entertained and had they been younger I’d probably not need to qualify it with the word ‘mildly’. They both felt this production deserved 3 stars but it’s for Year 1 and below.

What impressed me most about this production is Quick’s marketing nous and yet, as a marketer, I must give her a note. She prepared the free souvenir programmes with the child audience members in mind but she’s missing a trick by not including the professional training and experience bona fides of her cast. After all, mummy and daddy are footing the bill – the very fact of ‘this could be me’ should be enough to entice the children, but the grown-ups want to know the myriad TV roles Darren Hart (Cheetah) has had or the solid Guildford training of Ben Stock (Lord Braggard), to name a few. Jungle Rumble is not going to receive any Olivier nominations but it just might get an Institute of Practitioners of Advertising Effectiveness Award.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

Jungle Rumble, a new family musical featuring an inspirational message about working together to protect the Earth, will run this half term from 14 to 20 February 2022 at The Fortune Theatre in London’s Covent Garden.

Featuring a fabulous line-up of West End performers, uplifting songs and thrilling choreography, Jungle Rumble tells the story of ancient elephant Eeli, shy zebra Zella and cheeky monkey Boo. They journey deep into the heart of the jungle on a fearless expedition to rescue Snow, the last white lion, from the evil Lord Braggard.

The cast of Jungle Rumble is Sharon Ballard as Eeli, Callum Evans as Ensemble, Darren Hart as Cheetah, Michael Lin as Boo, Carole Stennett as Snow/Ester, Ben Stock as Lord Braggard / Boss and Joy Tan as Zella.

Jungle Rumble is Directed by Susie McKenna (current Associate Director at Kiln Theatre, former Creative Director of Hackney Empire), with Choreography by Frank Thompson (Blues in the Night, The Bodyguard), Design by Lotte Collett (Hackney Empire pantomimes, Blues in the Night), Lighting Design by Simisola Majekodunmi (J’Ouvert) and Sound Design by Tom Marshall (The Drifter’s Girl, Nativity! The Musical). It is produced by Perform Productions and General Managed by Anthology Theatre.

Jungle Rumble at the Fortune Theatre

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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