This all-singing, all-dancing adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic coming-of-age tale is rooted firmly in the wild and ruthless Indian jungle, red in tooth and claw. A collaboration between Nottingham Lakeside Arts and local company New Street Theatre, it’s an emotional roller-coaster with something for children and ex-children alike.
We’re plunged straight into big person themes of love and loss, law and order and life and death. The show publicity suggests a lower age limit of six years old and, having taken our three year old along, I’d say they got that about right. Scenes of (very) mild peril perhaps make this production a little dark and overwhelming, in maybe one or two places, for the under-fives. Disney, it isnae.
That said, the mood is superbly set by some wowing staging that evokes the fecund lushness of the Indian Jungle. Older children and their accompanying wrinklies may appreciate Kipling’s anthropomorphic moralising, with all that Law of the Jungle talk, but there’s plenty of action, singing, lively choreography and potty humour to entertain younger thesps.
The ensemble and individual performances are universally excellent, with nice touches of humour worked from man-cub Mowgli and bilious Baloo’s narky-snarky master-pupil relationship. The cast and director have clearly poured an incredible amount of thought and energy into the staging, music (original score with live musicians) and humorous set pieces. On the music front, special mention to the duet of the two mothers - wolf and human - sung in beautiful harmony in the second act, a poignant reminder of the tension between the pull of maternal instinct and the push of the child’s quest for self-discovery and autonomy. I was intrigued to see how Kaa the python would be realised on stage, given the subtle costumes. Without giving anything away, it’s wonderfully inventive.
The light relief offered by the anarchic and mischievous monkeys was a highlight for our daughter, with plenty of wee, bum and poo talk to balance out some of the darker bits with Sheer Kahn the tiger. Who, incidentally, is played by the chap usually found in the leather and Lincoln green of Robin Hood.
All in all, an enjoyable and lively tale of self-discovery told with high drama, pathos, playground humour, atmospheric live music and great élan from the cast. Highly recommended for Primary-aged and up.
The Jungle Book is at Lakeside Arts Theatre until Sunday 23 July 2017.