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Review of The Jungle Book at Churchill Theatre, Bromley

THE JUNGLE BOOK. Keziah Joseph 'Mowgli' and company. Photo by Manuel Harlan
THE JUNGLE BOOK. Keziah Joseph ‘Mowgli’ and company. Photo by Manuel Harlan

This tropical jungle adventure was a welcome escape from Bromley’s arctic climate. Based on the infamous stories by Rudyard Kipling, this reimagining of the Jungle Book by Jessica Swale with an exciting musical score by Joe Stilgoe was a real treat for the all-ages audience at the Churchill Theatre on Wednesday evening.

Keziah Joseph delighted as Mowgli, full of enthusiasm and bravery as she fell in and out of scrapes in her jungle neighbourhood. Her recurring “I want” song was particularly catchy. Stilgoe made excellent use of a percussionist as part of the on-stage ensemble to create a tropical soundscape with marimba (brilliantly played with four sticks by Diogo Gomes) and a plethora of other instruments. A few of the cast members impressively multi-tasked as actor-musicians. I never thought I’d see a cello played so skilfully by a monkey! A couple of the songs sounded a lot like ‘I wanna be like you’ from the 1967 Disney film and I wondered if this was on purpose, as there was also a subtle mention of “prickly pears” in the finale.

Deborah Oyelade was fantastic as Bagheera. Her powerful patriarchy-busting panther was a delight and an excellent role model to Mowgli alongside the forever hungry but heart-warming Balloo the bear (portrayed by Dyfrig Morris). Rachel Dawson was also a fabulous Kaa in a snake costume so extravagant it required multiple cast members to help her move around the stage. This in combination with other puppetry elements (designed by Nick Barnes) created a magical presence on stage.

Lloyd Gorman was fabulous as Shere Khan in his sparkly stripy jumpsuit (designed by Peter McKintosh). McKintosh’s rustic costumes complemented his playground jungle set, making creative use of ladders emerging from the floor and dangling from the ceiling to depict the jungle greenery. This gave the cast plenty of space and levels to play with as they swung through the trees etc.

Swale is quoted in the programme to have restructured the plot to augment themes of isolation and minority, growing up in a place where everyone is different from you and to celebrate diversity, which this cast certainly did. The narrative of Mowgli being betrayed and turned against by his pack who brought him up is a wonderful narrative for young people (and those young at heart) to hear in the current divided political climate, but some of the cultural references to veganism etc. felt a little out of place at times. The Jungle Book was a fab night out full of colour, laughter, thrilling music and more. I almost completely forgot about the snow outside!

4 stars

Review by Fiona Scott

An exciting new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s family classic, The Jungle Book, comes to life in this colourful new show brought to you by the team behind Goodnight Mister Tom and Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild.

Loved as a wild and fun tale of family, belonging and identity, this production is packed with memorable characters, new songs and brilliant storytelling.

Mowgli the man-cub battles for survival in this heartwarming coming-of-age story about a child raised by wolves in the jungle. With the help of his animal friends, including Bagheera the panther, Baloo the bear and Kaa the python, Mowgli outwits the cruel and powerful tiger, Shere Khan, and learns the law of the jungle.

This unforgettable musical adventure is adapted by the Olivier award-winning Jessica Swale (Nell Gwynn), features live music on stage created by Joe Stilgoe and is directed by Max Webster (The Lorax, The Old Vic).

THE JUNGLE BOOK
By Jessica Swale
Music by Joe Stilgoe
Based on the stories by Rudyard Kipling
Directed by Max Webster
Wed 28 February – Sun 4th March 2018
https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/

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