‘The Jungle Book’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 21, 2017

‘The Jungle Book’ has been adapted for the stage by Monica Flory, from the 1894 classic adventure stories, written by British (India was British) novelist, poet and journalist, Rudyard Kipling.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on 30th December 1865 in Bombay, and he died in London 70 years later – January 1936. In 1907, Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, rewarding his ‘versatile and luminous narrative gift’, the first English-language writer to receive the prize. He declined a Knighthood on several occasions, but now rests at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. This incomparable and yet controversial man, was a cousin of Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin.

This 3-week season by the Playlovers’ Theatre Group, of this 90-minute, fast moving drama – no Disney music or songs – runs every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening at 7.30 until the 4th November, at the Camelot Theatre (MosArts), 16 Lochee Street, Mosman Park. There are Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on October the 22nd and the 29th.

 

There is an open stage. The backdrop has a large selection of Indian vistas, from rainforest to ruined temples. projected onto it, plus a thrilling chase through bushland filmed by Alex Lorian. There was also an exciting, well-made, couple of minutes of animation that had been put together by Sarah Christiner and Blake Jenkins.

The stage floor is sand, with a sandbank at the rear. On the auditorium level, to the side of the stage, is an animal den. Against the opposite auditorium wall, is a tree where three kites messengers, Rann (Luke Callaghan), Ikki (Bonnie Kerslake) and Chil (Christian Mordant) sit throughout the performance, preening themselves and searching under their wings for insects.

With several entry and exit points and a large, young cast (aged 7 to 20), Kolbe Burgoyne had to be well organised. The production flowed perfectly.

The lighting designer, Aaron Smith, was mentored by John Woolrych. Aaron operated his own complex design perfectly. The accompanying soundscape, by Evan ‘Flash Zany’ Skinner, was mainly a non-stop collection of animal and insect noises, very carefully recorded and played at the ideal, subtle volume level; Evan’s sound effects on the animation showed a great deal of hard work had been put in.

 

       Two monkeys, Thuu (Adeson Oyasope) and Oo (Sade Oyasope), check out the audience. Now, assured that there is no danger, they lead the young human child, Baby Mowgli (William Thomas) to their meeting place. Their troop of monkeys, Won-Tolla (Elijah Styles), Pappu (Jayden Bell / Rory McLaughlin), Chikai (Rohan Pierotti) and Phaona (Rachel Phillips) discuss Mowgli’s future. When a greedy golden jackal, Tabaqui (Connor Carlyle) arrives he heartlessly suggests giving him to the terrifying tiger, Shere Khan (Caelan Steedman).

      Luckily, the chief wolf, Akela (Wyatt Gordon) accompanied by his mother wolf, Raksha (Nicola Kinnane/Caitlyn Hughes), and his respected wolf-pack including the oldest son, Grey Brother (Shane Marshall), Ko (Justin Oliveira), Tha (Sam Buston), Ferao (Jacob Clayton) and Akela’s little grandchild, Leela (Evie Madeleine Jagot), arrived in time and said that they would take care of Mowgli.

      Seven years later, teenage Mowgli (Jamie Buttery) is healthy and a talented part of the pack. When he discovers he is a human, and not as fierce as he thought, Mowgli considers leaving the pack; but he first wants to help the wolves fight off the fearful, Shere Khan. The big black sloth bear, Baloo (Josh Harris), Messua (Madi Gordon) and Mowgli’s mentor, the black panther Baghera (David Heder) volunteer to help him.

 

The outstanding costumes were made by the parents, under the guidance of Jenny Prosser. How many school have we seen where the child wears a pair of pathetic ears that is supposed to make them into a lion? Here, the work that has obviously gone into choosing the correct materials, textures and colours to wear over the actors’ spandex morphsuits or onesie catsuits, was remarkable. The wolves had thick grey fur, the kites were covered in feathers and the monkeys, panther and jackal astonishing. The masks they wore, along with careful makeup applied by Harry Wake, gave us the genuine animal’s head.

The Director Sarah Christiner, who was assisted by Connor Carlyle, once again forgot the old expression ‘never work with children’ and proved it wrong. After a couple of minutes of opening night nerves, the youngsters settled and gave their very best, with clear diction and good strong projection. When I heard that Buttery was going to play Mowgli, I thought his will have to be Jarrod’s ‘finest hour’ in acting, but thankfully it was his talented, sprightly offspring, Jamie Buttery.

When one reads some of Kipling’s stories about complex issues of identity and national allegiance, it is not surprising when you see Mowgli’s character being enacted that this story is partly autobiographical. Kipling developed his stories from those told to him by his nanny as a child. Then, like orphaned Mowgli, Kipling and his sister when they were only about 5 years old, were taken alone to England, to be lodgers for 6 horrendous years with the Holloway family in Portsmouth. They stayed occasionally with their aunt and uncle in Fulham, before Kipling joined the army corps in Devon – aged only 12. At 17 he was back in Bombay’s squalor.

In 1890, after years of writing short stories, he sold the rights to 6 volumes for a mere 200 pounds. Shortly after he married, he almost became bankrupt when his bank collapsed.

On hearing of the mounting of this show, my biggest worry was that children would turn up expecting the animals to look just like the cartoon characters, and that there would be plenty of bouncy, catchy tunes. The music was missing, but the animals were as near to the real thing than you could expect. Shows like the acclaimed ‘Lion King’ had far less realistic costumes. The young actors managed to move just like the creatures they portrayed. Then there was Baloo – fabulous Josh, you totally captured the sluggish movements. One last mention to the 100-years old Indian rock python, Kaa. Leon Hendroff’s creative handiwork was stunning, and beautifully brought to life by Charlie Young.

In this adaptation some of the animal characters have changed from the original text creatures, but this is a minor detail. This production had plenty of colour, and magic. Children over about 7 years (who have been well prepped on the storyline) will love this 90-minute show.