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Posted by : RodDungate on Dec 02, 2005 - 10:47 AM Archive
THE JUNGLE BOOK – Watermill, West Berkshire Playhouse
Until 7th January
Running Time: 2 hours

Review by Stewart McGill, 1st December 2005

Lively, entertaining - but could do with a bit more challenge and a bit less pre-show teacher input

I sat at 10.30am in a packed Watermill full of excited children… I listened in dismay as a teacher stood at the front of the stalls and told the auditorium that the first ten minutes would be scary, the tiger not real, this was a pantomime… this was scenery etc etc. So illusions destroyed – what a way for a young audience to encounter theatre!

Well it wasn’t scary, Shere Khan had a kind of lounge lizard look that suggested a deal of mischief but no one took fright and so it continued. Neil Duffield has a niche in adapting popular children’s tales for Christmas and Watermill have produced a few of these. The Jungle Book is not my favourite adaptation and all recent excursions into the territory have displayed a kind of sub The Lion King approach. This one, directed by Andy Brereton has moments especially in the first half when the old magic works – I loved the cobra guardian of the ancient treasure but after the interval there was a descent into broad comedy that didn’t really advance the story or complete it.

The design by Gary McCann evokes a jungle world of ropes, structures and pits effectively and a multi-skilled company of actor-musician cover a wide range of roles animal and human yet I felt a little short changed on the concep, the aerial rope work does not do much at all, Baloo resembles a roadside tramp, en route from Godot dropping by for work and often the ‘human’ qualities of the animals are overstated by the costumes. I did think Claire Storey’s Bagheera got it right and there is no doubt the show tells a swift story effectively. I think I wanted the more challenging moments of the story to be taken seriously, children can cope with difficult subjects, witness the National’s triumphant and complex Coram Boy.

The Jungle Book is a lively and certainly entertaining show with all the production values one expects from Watermill, yet I left feeling that so much more could be achieved with better material for today’s young audience. Finally I would ban teachers from giving pre-show talks to shatter illusion and magic.

Cast: Messua/Akela: Emma Manton, Shere Khan/Sergeant Major: Justin McCarron, Baloo: David Plimmer, Bagheera: Claire Storey, Mowgli: Matthew Woodyatt, Raksha/Cobra: You-Ri Yamanaka.

Creative Team: Directed by Andy Brereton, Original Music & Musical Direction by Janie Armour, Designed by Gary McCann, Lighting by Lawrence T Doyle, Sound Design by Gary Dixon.
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