A journey through the wilderness of India’s jungles, filled with many exotic animals and one boy: man by nature, wolf at heart. This stage-adaptation’s take on an all-time classic story maintains the key theme of identity, seeing Mowgli struggle to connect with his roots as a man, instead of a wolf, whilst also incorporating more modern themes into the production such as feminism.
The majority of the cast were female, including main characters Mowgli and Bagheera. Kesiah Joseph, who played Mowgli, portrayed a passionate and adolescent Mowgli through her excellent theatrical singing; her costume’s design kept it traditional with a simple rag-look. The play opened with Mowgli as a baby, represented by a handmade puppet that had no face, just a head and a body wearing some red rags. This was “ventriloquized” by the onstage actors with gurgling noises and giggles, effectively eliciting the audience’s empathy for a sweet and innocent child using something made of no-more than stuffing, thread and fabric. A credit to puppetry director and designer Nick Barnes.
Bagheera was played by Deborah Oyelade, who transformed the traditional heroic, wise old-man character of Bagheera into a sassy young woman who acted as the intellectual voice of feminism throughout the play. She performed with a bold attitude and comically bickered with Baloo about parenting, reflecting modern day arguments between couples and parents. Her costume reflected her sexy and strong minded nature with a Cat Woman-esque attire: a black velvet material, non-fitted, all in one suit with a belt, a long black velvet tail and ears and, of course, the features of a panther.
Baloo was played by Dyfrig Morris who embraced the traditional funny character with his broad Welsh accent, frequent giggles and silly voice. He was the comic relief of the show, telling jokes that often revolved around food, as the original character did, with constant references to his love for honey. He received a large response from the audience as his act was mostly foolish, slapstick humour. Also sticking to the traditionalist approach of Baloo, he was the lovable best friend with the big heart, he cared for Mowgli as a father and, being a bear, gave great hugs. His costume was alike to a teddy bear, a pair of fluffy dungarees with patches on the knees and a hat and, to further demonstrate his role as the clown of the play, he had a red nose.
Mowgli’s mum appeared in the play at the end, she spoke in an Indian language to separate not only Mowgli but also the audience from the human world because neither the onlookers nor Mowgli could understand her. This was a great audience inclusion technique as it made people feel more involved with the jungle world that Mowgli was a part of as it created a barrier between the human world and Mowgli and the audience.
However, not all of the on-stage characterisations were so effective. The monkeys were adapted into something reminiscent of a modern day youth gang; the four actors took on a London accent, often cracked “toilet-humour” jokes and performed a street-dance routine to generic hip-hop music. They spoke with modern day slang, such as “bare good” and “amazeballs”; however, these words were delivered in an extremely over the top and cringe-worthy way. The “hip” language was also slightly outdated, used at inappropriate times and in the wrong situations. It felt like the producers were trying too hard to appeal to a young audience.
The character of Shere Khan was oddly conducted and did not fit into any of the overall themes of the play. Played by Lloyd Gorman, he spoke in a strong cockney accent that lacked any of Shere Khan’s signature evil or villainous persona. Traditionally, Shere Khan was a sly character who was intimidatingly knowledgeable and cunning, however, this presentation of Shere Khan was not scary from any angle, he even threw in the odd jokey line, which was incongruous with the rest of his script. Overall, there was an uncertainty as to what producers were trying to achieve with Shere Khan, who looked completely out of place on stage dressed in a biker costume with a black leather jacket, black leather trousers and doc martin boots, all covered with orange, glittery stripes and finished off with a quiff.
The music in the production was unlike the sing along songs in the famous Disney adaptation. The percussion was performed onstage behind the characters, supplemented by the actors who played the wolves with the occasional accordion, guitar and double base whilst acting and singing, an effective approach that created musical characters. This effectively brought the music to life and added more charisma to the songs. The lyrics enhanced the theme of equality and also identity at the same time; for example, the main song was called “Same sun, same moon” and this song was performed several times throughout the play, significantly highlighting that we are all equal, animal or human, man or woman.
The stage set up and lighting was highly effective and created an excellent jungle ambiance. It included a large apparatus of wooden ladders and ropes that looked like bamboo, which a projection of lights coloured green to create the effect of tree top canopies. The characters use of space was spread across this apparatus with a mixture of ground work on the stage and Mowgli, Bagheera and the monkeys climbing up the ladders to distinguish the animals that are floor-bound and those that can climb trees. The use of a moving floor was effective both in the wolves hunting scenes, enabling them to appear to be running, and for transitions between scenes.