Jungle Book – Theatre Review

Metta Theatre, now in their tenth year, continue to produce some of the most entertaining and intelligent adaptations of literary classics in the British theatre scene. And here, Kipling’s Jungle Book gets its own intriguing reimagining. Director and Adaptor Poppy Burton-Morgan drags the, now somewhat archaic and contentious text, slap bang into a modern setting. Mowgli is a girl (huzzah!), Baloo is a poetry producing bin-man, and the wolves skateboarding, hip-hop dancing street kids. Oh, and if it wasn’t obvious, the story is told through hip-hop, dance and some thrilling jaw-dropping circus. Think urban jungle, not the forests of India.

Moving from vignette to vignette we see Mowgli (a bubbly and expressive Natalie Nicole James) learning the ‘law of the streets’ from a loveable Baloo (Stefan Puxon) and the super cool graffiti artist Bagheera (Kloé Dean) before attempting to understand the world of the ‘suits’ – the world she is really from. There are some wonderful stand out moments; the cheeky hip hop dancing monkeys giving Mowgli the run-around, some astonishing pole work as Kaa the snake hypnotises them all, and an enjoyable scene where, reunited with her mother, Mowgli is forced into lots of different dresses prompting an exploration of dance. There’s also some adorable puppetry with a little toddler Mowgli showing off her own circus skills!

As is often the case with narrative-circus, the family audience are regularly stunned into silence by all these fantastic feats, and it takes the warm encouragement from the cast to get them clapping, whooping and dancing along too. The cast are clearly adept at this and manage to engage everyone quickly (I imagine the later shows are super fun!) Shere Khan, the terrifying gangster rapper, is played by Dean Stewart who gives a powerhouse performance. The audience seem to visibly shrink away from him when he prowls around the stage, and are almost too scared to respond to his “when I say” rapper rules! Indeed, the cast are all so effortlessly cool, and work together beautifully. Burton-Morgan fully utilises the round space of the Wonderground, and it’s great fun to watch the cast run around the audience or give them things to hold.

Whilst some of the younger members of the audience may not have fully followed the story, it’s doubtful they would have minded much as each scene is pretty pacey and to the point. Mowgli is such a loveable protagonist, and the cast work hard to fully express the story of their characters, even if they don’t always quite succeed. Some of the music/rapping isn’t always heard clearly, but there’s enough story here for a family audience to enjoy.

The real beauty of this piece is the political and moral edge Burton-Morgan has pulled out of this story. Even Shere Khan’s ending is tragic rather than bad-guy-gets-his-comeuppance satisfactory – another young man behind bars, failed by the state. Metta Theatre have guts to challenge not only the literary history of this classic story, but also make some huge political statements at the same time. More of this in family and children’s theatre please! This is Jungle Book turned completely on its head, both metaphorically and physically! Catch it soon at Wonderground, or stay tuned to Metta Theatre’s social media for upcoming tour dates.

Jungle Book
London Wonderground
13th – 28th August 2016

Then continuing on tour. Dates to be announced.

Credits

Creatives

Adaptor & Director | Poppy Burton-Morgan
Choreographer | Kendra J Horsburgh
Designer | William Reynolds
Costume Designer | Kate Lane
Sound Designer | Filipe Gomes

Cast

Mowgli | Natalie Nicole James
Raksha / Monkey| Ellen Wolf
Bagheera / Messua | Kloé Dean
Kaa / Vee | Nathalie Alison
Baloo / Buldeo | Stefan Puxon
Akela / Monkey | Matt Knight
Shere Khan / Monkey | Dean Stewart

www.mettatheatre.co.uk

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Saturday 20th August, 2016.

Author's review: 
4