Review: The Jungle Book. Lakeside Arts. Nottingham University.

Taking the story of Rudyard Kipling’s much loved classic, The Jungle Book, and deliberately keeping the tale as true to the original book – including using Kipling’s poetic verse as a basis for the songs allows the whole family to enjoy it on all intellectual levels. This has been achieved in an extremely entertaining version of The Jungle Book currently playing at Lakeside Arts Nottingham University.

The show, directed by Martin Berry, music by BB Cooper with book and lyrics by Toby Hulse – including original lyrics by Rudyard Kipling – caters well for the children in the audience as there is plenty of spectacle, silliness and lively songs. Additionally, the adults will enjoy it for the very same reasons as the kids but. will fully appreciate the verbal and visual poetry that abounds throughout the show.

The fantastic jungle setting (designer Kate Unwin) and atmospheric lighting effects (Chris Flux) all serve the piece greatly, as do the very creative and necessarily practical costumes that have a super imaginative story-telling feel to them including the make-up. Why ‘necessarily’? Well there are some mighty quick changes in this show and lots of wild animal behaviour to convey. The live music is atmospheric, well balanced and pin sharp throughout.

As such, the whole fourteen strong ensemble work very hard to keep the energy going through acting, dance and song. The little kids in the audience love the Bandar Log monkeys and their bum scratching antics and wild abandon. They also adore, and quite rightly, Jason Wrightam as his super lovable and silly Baloo the bear. On the opposite side of the Jungle Law is of course Shere Kahn the tiger with the bad ass attitude and a bit of a limp. Shere Kahn is given a tempered treatment by Ade Andrews. His portrayal is just the right side of nasty character but not so scary that the little ‘uns are running for the hills screaming for their mummies. Andrews handles the prose well and gives Shere Kahn plenty of wicked personality with his muscular and commanding presence.

As Mowgli’s natural mother Messua, Cibele Ponces Alvarenga demonstrates her fine acting and impressive singing voice in a role that encompasses grief, anger, longing and joy throughout the course of this entertaining play. Alvarenga is also part of the talented ensemble. As Wolf Mother Raksha, Hazel Monaghan’s portrayal is believable and sensitive as the loving surrogate Wolf Mother to Mowgli. Another fine actress with a rich vocal talent.

Ah yes, that there Mowgli. Two un-named mentions already for lead actor Mahesh Parmar who plays Mowgli with such charm and believability as the Man Cub who has to learn the laws of the jungle to survive. Parmar puts in a terrific performance and one which conveys total believability in the role. This young man already has quite a pedigree of performances behind him and this reviewer looks very much forward to seeing him as Puck in Curve Young Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in August this year.

Among the many highlights of the evening this reviewer loved the multi – actress portrayal of the dangerous and seductive rock python Kaa. The performers Becki Scollick, Tori Hope, Louiesa Harbord and Paige Cunningham all combine, at subtly different vocal levels and in movement to temptingly portray the snake who eyes you don’t want to be drawn into. Jonathan Salt is appropriately cunning, reckless and has exactly the right tones for Kipling’s animal character, the panther Bagheera, who Kipling describes as having a voice ‘as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree.’

All of the cast have clearly put tremendous effort into becoming the animals through body language, grunts and growls and this consideration and dedication takes this show from being potentially adequate to five star excellent.

Overall this reviewer can highly recommend this super family friendly version of The Jungle Book running at Lakeside Arts Nottingham University. Just don’t go expecting Disney. It’s better than that! And its live and roaring its theatrical head off! Rooooooaaaar!

The Jungle Book runs until Sunday 23rd July 2017.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe

Photo credits: Mark James.

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