Theatre Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK – The Lowry, Salford

The Jungle Book UK Tour

Keziah Joseph as Mowgli and the cast of THE JUNGLE BOOK. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Jessica Swale’s riveting and vivacious twist on Rudyard Kipling’s classic THE JUNGLE BOOK brings the life and soul of the jungle to Salford’s The Lowry

Rudyard Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK has been retold in many different ways over the years, with Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film and, more recently, the live action film from 2016, in particular, standing out as favourites. However, Olivier award-winning Jessica Swale’s new stage adaption not only touches on childhood memories but also brings an edgy, 21st-century twist to Kipling’s classic story.

Mowgli (Keziah Joseph) is adopted and raised by an unusual set of parents – a bear and a panther – in accordance to the jungle rules which allow him to stay as part of the wolf pack. He is set to take lessons on life from his guardian parents, the unsophisticated, free-spirited Balloo (Dyfrig Morris) and the sleek, feisty female Bagheera (Deborah Oyelade) who inadvertently reveal the truth about Mowgli’s appearance. In denial, he runs away to what turns into a wild adventure of self-discovery, meeting up with some funky monkeys and facing the evil Shere Khan along the way.

Joseph’s short hair and small frame capture the essence of Mowgli so well that it’s hard to remember at times that she is indeed a female. She delivers an exemplary solo song to start off the play with such a fresh and youthful sound, opening up the underlying theme of identity and making you question how such a small body can have such a big voice.

Keziah Joseph as Mowgli in THE JUNGLE BOOK.

Keziah Joseph as Mowgli in THE JUNGLE BOOK. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Joseph is joined by an energetic and strong supporting cast. The group of eleven creates a whole jungle full of distinct and different animals, constantly dancing, singing and moving from instrument to instrument as they play. A notable mention goes to the ‘hungry for honey’ Dyfrig Morris as Baloo, whose charm and lovable Welsh bear act has the audience in stitches. Each animal is clearly developed, whether it be from the use of crutches which brings the family of wolves to their four-legged ways, puppets to create an illusion of an actual animal or being, or the sensational luminous green snake Kaa, played by Rachel Dawson, whose dramatic and lengthy body moves so elegantly across the stage with the help four men who move the frame along. Lloyd Gorman’s moustached Shere Khan, however, is dressed in a sequined orange jumpsuit and could have been slightly more on the scarier side of a villain than portrayed.

The cast dance away and deliver their extravagances through a revolving, concrete climbing frame. Dashing in and out and up and down, the ladders, bars and ropes bring a whole new element of heights and levels to the stage and provide the perfect onset jungle, especially in the dramatic and almost tear-provoking ending which lights up the dark night sky.

Dyfrig Morris as Baloo and Deborah Oyelade as Bagheera in THE JUNGLE BOOK.

Dyfrig Morris as Baloo and Deborah Oyelade as Bagheera in THE JUNGLE BOOK. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Those expecting to hear the classic Sherman Brothers songs from the Disney film may be initially disappointed but will soon be won over by the multitude of new and catchy numbers from composer Joe Stilgoe which echoes throughout with marimbas and strings included. It is also clear to see the fresh ideas on the story, which differ from the Disney original, showcasing the feeling of acceptance, diversity and a sense of belonging.

This is a wild and fun show is packed with a new contemporary concept of family, love and identity and its underlying themes of women empowerment and ethnicity make it more relevant to this day and age. Overflowing with laughter, memorable characters and a new soundtrack, this bold version of THE JUNGLE BOOK is highly entertaining, captivating both the young and old with a new law of the jungle for a new generation!

4 out of 5 stars

THE JUNGLE BOOK runs at The Lowry until 6 May 2018.