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LIFE of PI at Wyndham’s Theatre | Review

Remember that film you heard all the hype for back in 2012, saw and thought it was beautiful and haven’t thought about it since, well this is a slightly less beautiful version of that, on stage. This new production has some surface-level beauty but lacks the thoughtfulness that would have hung in my mind.

Life Of Pi - the Company 2021 by Johan Persson.
Life Of Pi – the Company 2021 by Johan Persson.

Going in, I was admittedly apprehensive. I could not help but wonder if there is a reason we don’t see many films to stage adaptations. Now, the pedants will tell me that this is technically adapted from a book, but having read the book and watched the film, this feels as though the film was the driving force behind the play. This was evident throughout the performance; there were moments I recognised shot for shot from the film despite how out of place in the play they were.

My apprehensions were cast off fast. The atmosphere of the play was a real strength, and while this may have been the lurking presence of the film’s imagery, it transported us to India and the vast expanses of the ocean. Tim Hatley (Set and Costume) and Tim Lutkin & Carolyn Dowling (Lighting and Sound) must be credited for capturing a distinct atmosphere and setting the scene for magical storytelling.

The animals on the boat were all puppets. This was probably the main attraction but was underwhelming. This is the same company that did War Horse, to great critical acclaim, yet a 300 pound Bengal tiger flew across the stage with no weight or characterisation. Other puppets lacked individual mannerisms and, at times, felt neglected.

The story is conjured up with believable wonder; Hiran Abeysekera (Pi) has a good stage presence and plays the charmingly eccentric young protagonist well. However, aside from the strong performance of David K.S. Tse (Mr Okamoto), the performances generally weren’t uplifting and didn’t portray their characters on a deeper level.  Perhaps I am too cynical, there was wonderful energy to the show, and it was fun. I just felt like the opportunity for depth was not explored.

The story was told strangely. I remember the book setting up this purgatorial experience as a philosophical, thoughtful meditation on loneliness and human desperation. The film captured some of this, but the big attraction of the film was the beauty. This play does grasp at this, and at moments the stage is gorgeous, but for many reasons, the look of the play did not blow me away. I do not think the writing helped this. A lack of depth and character development meant that individuals did not stay with me as I left. And while the limitations of the stage are worth noting, the limitations of language are minimal, and the writing (Lolita Chakrabarti) has failed to explore this.

I had fun. Life of Pi was enjoyable, but in the words of the great Peter Brook, ‘Entertainment is fine’, I could not help but think there was so much left to delve into. After all is said and done, if we are to adapt films to stage, I don’t think taking the film and cramming an all too faithful version into a theatre is the way forward; I think we must look beyond the obvious choices.

2 gold stars

Review by Tom Carter

After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with four other survivors – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, who will survive?

Based on one of the most extraordinary and best-loved works of fiction – winner of the Man Booker Prize, selling over fifteen million copies worldwide – and featuring breath-taking puppetry and state-of-the-art visuals, Life of Pi is a universally acclaimed, smash hit adaptation of an epic journey of endurance and hope.

Long after the curtain falls, “Life of Pi will make you believe in the power of theatre” (The Times).


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1 thought on “LIFE of PI at Wyndham’s Theatre | Review”

  1. I also saw “life of pi“ on dec 2nd and wow, the puppets and puppetry were amazing.I was fortunate to see the animals up close and personal as I was sat close to the stage by the ramp which was used to to bring them on stage. I was also able to see the actor/puppeteers and observe the embodiment of the animals in everything they did, it was truly outstanding, the emotion and the intent on their faces was inspiring.Richard Parker’s mannerisms where great. The set was really good, sound and lighting really good. Personally I don’t think you should try to compare a film with a piece of fully immersive physical theatre. I have not read the book but fully enjoyed the experience at the Wyndham’s theatre.

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