Review: Akram Khan’s Jungle Book: Reimagined. Curve

Akram Khan’s Jungle Book: Reimagined

Leicester Curve

Saturday 2nd – Saturday 9th April 2022

Director/Choreographer – Akram Khan

Set in a near-future world where sea levels are rising, families are displaced and the natural world suffers at the hands of humankind, Jungle Book: Reimagined is a stunning work of dance-theatre which demands to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. This sublime production fuses peerless choreography, an electric score, and spellbinding visuals to create a truly unique and affecting piece which will leave you riveted to your seat in wonder.

In a telling reinvention of Rudyard Kipling’s much-loved classic, we enter a world beset by martial law, food rations and curfews. Families are forced to flee their homes in search of higher ground as they face looming ecological disaster and widespread flooding. We follow one such family, as their child is cast adrift in a deserted city where wild animals rule the streets and make libraries, supermarkets, and government buildings their own.

Rescued by a pack of wolves, the child soon christened Mowgli, is initially perceived as a threat, but the fiercely maternal she-wolf, Raksha, fights her corner. Mowgli must now prove her value as she is tasked to find food. Bagheera, an albino panther, and Baloo, an erstwhile dancing bear, are entrusted with guarding Mowgli. But the streets are no place for a young child; danger lurks everywhere, especially in the form of the Bandar-log, lab monkeys who have been subjected to all kinds of torturous experiments.

The latter use their guile and cunning to steal Mowgli away from her protectors. Consequently, Bagheera and Baloo must forge a plan to gain her back, so they seek out Kaa, the rock python. Yet she herself poses a dangerous threat. Can the fragile alliance between the animal factions hold, can Mowgli be rescued, and can all escape the menace of the two-legged hunter, a man cast out by his own kind?

Dancers Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis-Dunn, Thomasin Gülgeç, Max Revell, Matthew Sandiford, Pui Yung Shum, Fukiko Takase, Holly Vallis, Vanessa Vince-Pang, Luke Watson, andJan Mikaela Villanueva (guest artist) are simply incredible. They imbue their animal characters with life, personality, and believability; their movements perfectly matched to the dialogue, music, and soundscape. The synchronicity is faultless, whether they are portraying, humans, wolves, or monkeys. Mesmeric choreography, fusing elements of kathak, ballet and contemporary dance, is executed in ways that will leave you astounded.

Everything about this production is immaculately realised. Digital technology enhances the storytelling and the dance in compelling ways. This is the work of a creative team at the top of their game with sound design by Gareth Fry, lighting by Michael Hulls, visual stage design by Miriam Buether, and video design and animation by YeastCulture. Add to this an excellent script by Tariq Jordan and a hauntingly evocative original score by Jocelyn Pookand the result is exquisite.

I have yet to see a show like this one in all my years of theatre going. There were times when it seemed as though the whole audience had forgotten to breathe and there was power in that silence: the unique power of theatre and storytelling; the power to recognise the collective responsibility to our children and the world around us; and the power to acknowledge that we can all make a difference, if we try. As Mowgli’s mother impresses upon us, ‘We are guests here passing through time and space.’

This is a show which will move you, surprise you, challenge you, but in a way that demands your respect. You can see the hours of work that have gone into every aspect. My favourite element is the way in which the video design and animation complement the dance. Beautifully stylised drawings, white outlines on charcoal or black backgrounds, transport you to a magical world. The intimate flashback scenes between an animated Mowgli and her mother are especially moving, highlighting the importance of family and the need to belong.

With climate change as a key theme, it is fitting that the physical stage is almost bare and that technology, which was paramount in connecting us all during the COVID-19 pandemic, should be at the forefront. It is not only theatrical, but cinematic, and so augments the drama and the narrative.

To quote, Akram Khan, ‘This is not a children’s show. This is not an adult’s show. This is everybody’s show.’ I completely concur as the standing ovation at the end proves testament to the unqualified success of what we have just seen.

Age suitability – 10+

Rating: 5*

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes (including 20-minute interval)


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