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The Jungle Book [opening night] – De Montfort Hall, Leicester

Surely most of us will have encountered Rudyard Kipling's story of The Jungle Book, more than likely as children. For me it was Disney's animated film that first taught me the story of Mowgli, the little boy who was raised from a child by wild animals in the jungle. Kipling had written the story, set in Colonial India in his late 20's, this in 1894 and that it remains such an engaging story is thanks to those who have brought to life to the characters of Baloo, Bagheera, Kaa and of course the villain of the piece, Shere Khan.

This time round it was the Birmingham Stage Company and in particular Stuart Paterson for this adaptation of the tale, but really before coming along tonight, I had no idea of what to expect. Well alright this is not strictly true, The Jungle Book is a children's story isn't it? So in this case maybe a children's production with child actors in those leading roles, but Baloo, well he's an adult bear isn't he? And Shere Khan, Arkela, oh what about Bagheera, so you're beginning to understand my complete confusion. In this case maybe I'd better start with a blank canvas and see what transpires.

It was evident as we took to our seats that a children's production or not, tonight the audience although sizeably young, was incredibly mixed. So as the curtain rose and the chatter was turned to whoops and cries, it was clear this wasn't going to fit with my initial interpretation of a children's production. To be more precise this was a full grown-up affair and as a jungle was crafted before us, puppetry was used to bring the infant Mowgli to life. As he walked on, his puppeteer behind him (sinking into the shadows), the animals were already deciding his fate. "I'll eat him...", "No we'll care for him...", cried another and a pantomime quality was called upon when the same question was thrown out into the audience.

This fantasy was shaped from almost nothing and was clear that this was not another Disney, who had surely stolen this tale. As songs unfamiliar to us were performed we all sank into this telling and any reservations we may've had were soon expelled as this became all that mattered. Of course had I bothered to read the program, I would have noticed that the lyrics for one of these songs had been reproduced, but either way there was no chance anyone was going to get me singing, even a tiger! The actors in the show made a great impression, from Tony Hasnath in the lead role as Mowgli - abs gleaming under the stage lights to Mark A. Holden as the cuddly bear Baloo and more ingeniously of Suzzanne Ahmet who took charge of the puppetry and voice in her role as Kaa, the snake.

Where in previous productions I may have been critical about the sound production of a particular show, tonight I was very pleased to note that no such failings were a cause for concern. In fact this was a full surround-sound affair and at times I had been aware of what I thought was a mobile phone, only to realise to my embarrassment the noises were in fact part of the performance. Most spectacularly when Mowgli encountered Sheer Khan, in their final and ultimate meeting, the roar that went up as the tiger leapt, in an attempt to kill the young man, made the entire audience jump out of their seats, well me at least. As the cast took to the stage to greet the audience to their final encore, it was clear that this had been a truly fantastic production and for me, one that although I had at first met with a feeling of trepidation, had me wholly sold. Well done Birmingham Theatre Company and De Montfort Hall for a worthy evenings entertainment.


Nick James


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