With free face painting for children, and at just over an hour long including interval, The Birmingham Stage Company’s fresh take on Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale The Jungle Book at Richmond Theatre knows who its audience is, and caters to it.
Under director Neal Foster audience participation is key to this interactive production, with children bellowing instructions loud enough to raise the rafters and, surprisingly enough, I found myself amongst them! Despite Kipling’s controversial support for British Imperialism, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and his stories have helped shape the landscape of children’s literature. It’s no surprise that this particular fable has stood the test of time. In Stuart Paterson’s clever stage adaptation, the loveable and convincing anthropomorphic characters (Baloo played by Rob Hughes, and Bagheera played by Zephryn Taitte) are expertly guided by animal movement expert Peter Elliot.
Multi-talented Samuel Hargreaves’ emotional Mowgli kept the audience’s attention throughout with song and dance that contained wonderful modern inflections. Equally loveable in his ability to incite terror was Peter Sowerbutt’s villainous Shere Khan, who had me quite literally leaping out of my seat with his raspy roars – an innovative mix of Sowerbutt’s own voice and pre-recorded sounds collated by Nick Sagar.
The changes in character and location were easily identifiable by Gemma Hughes and Tanya Felts’ ingenious and unique costumes, which allowed the actors freedom of movement for the dances, choreographed by Kenn Oldfield. The simple use of vague animal inspiration instead of trying to mimic the exotic animal precisely proved very effective.
A stable foundation in morals for young children is subtly stated through Mowgli’s loving wolf-parents Iwan Tudor’s Akela, courageous leader of the wolf pack, and unconditionally loving wolf-mother Raksha (Natasha Lewis, who also plays his human mother Messua). They made me wish I had been discovered by them in the Indian jungle beautifully reproduced using many different materials myself, a thought I feel was shared by many, judging by the ecstatic howling of the audience during the encore.
The Jungle Book is playing at the Richmond Theatre until 25th June. For information and tickets, see the website here.