The Jungle Book: Richmond Theatre
Mowgli Comes to Life with a Startling She-Boy Performance
The Jungle Book is what is known as a classic, but in today's world, classics come reshaped with nods to the modern malaise. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. In this take on the story, there's a delightful mix of traditional and taking a 21st century punt. Thanks to Jessica Swale's sharp writing, it works a treat.
This production is on a national tour and it strikes all the right notes in appealing to the young, teenagers and adults. There are so many things to enjoy and admire. The lead role sees an astonishingly assured performance by Keziah Joseph as man-cub Mowgli on a journey of discovery, starting as a fluffy baby puppet and then flowering into a an impressively agile boy. Joseph has the lithe movement needed for the part and we never question her credentials from the moment she snaps onto the stage.
Deborah Oyelade gives a caring but hard love line as Bagheera, full of quickfire ripostes wrapped in a wise shtick. Mowgli's sidekick Baloo is played as a loveable layabout by Dyfrig Morris,with a Welsh accent that suits the sound of him longing for interval crisps, ice cream, or more likely, honey. There's one clever musical piece that opens the second set where he emotes: “I guess that’s why they call it the Baloos”.
The Funky Monkeys are Just Fun in the Jungle
There is an engaging ten minute sequence to claim the kids' full attention when the funky monkeys make their debut. This is street talk with a bit of slapstick humour aimed heavily at the youth. It's not too forced and that is the greatest compliment to be paid. Adults will just go with the flow.
Although at first glance Lloyd Gorman looks like an Elvis wannabe lost in the jungle, he turns in enough sneering badness to convince as the terminator tiger, Shere Khan. The beast can belt out a tune too, with a nice play on words, as he dreams of raw meat with a roaring chorus. In comparison, the green wraparound python Kaa, played in true slithery green by Rachel Dawson, does not quite slide in and out of the show with as much continuity.
Tight Writing Makes Things Tick in The Jungle Book
The themes of finding identity within the pack are here, and there are some good asides about gender power but these are punctuated nicely by the goofy moments. The wolves are a force to be reckoned with as they bounce around on their customised wooden limbs. It could look awkward, but the performances make the audience roll with it. Max Webster’s direction has a warm glow amid the tension of good and evil, resulting in the "red flower" that captures and combusts Khan to leave a heartfelt exit for Mowgli to find himself all over again.
There is no padding here. An hour for the first half to set up the half hour to finish the job in the second is just right. There are hardly any tumbleweed minutes. The story buzzes along but doesn't hit you too hard. Joe Stilgoe’s songs are so effortlessly likeable but not fluffy.
The new Jungle Book is here to stay for a while. You won't be wanting to get out of there.