There is nothing Disneyesque or dumbed-down about this Birmingham Stage Company show, and it’s a tribute to adapter Stuart Paterson, director Neal Foster and designer Jacqueline Trousdale that a very young audience at the matinee performance I saw sat absolutely enthralled for the whole two hours.
The subtle blend of Indian dress with anthropomorphic masks and costumes and a clever, flexible set allowed for the mix of fantasy and reality in Kipling’s books to make its proper impact. Not many children’s shows credit an animal movement expert as well as a choreographer. Peter Elliott is the man in question and his input is extremely effective.
Our young hero Mowgli is played by Samuel Hargreaves, credible as the boy who has to learn to be a man while acknowledging his debt to the junge denizens who have reared him. Natasha Lewis doubles the two caring mother roles – wolf Raksha and human Messua. In the large cast, Laura Waggott as the queenly python Kaa and Iwan Tudor as wolf-pack leader Akela stand out.
Villain of the piece is, of course, Shere Khan; Peter Sowerrbutts gives him authority as well as menace. This contrasts well with Zephryn Taitte’s Bagheera and village headman Buldeo as with Rob Hughes’s Baloo. There are a couple of carefully-placed opportunities for audience participation, but they’re not really needed. It holds its own as a literary classic given theatrical life. I suspect there’s now going to be a run on libraries and bookshops for the original tales.