Rudyard Kipling wrote his Just So Stories in 1902, probably to entertain his younger daughter, who must have been about six, on their long voyages to Africa and India, his birthplace. The stories are devised to stimulate a child’s curiosity and imagination, taking in, as they do, many of the different cultures of the world and bringing in true place names “you can look it up in the atlas, Best Beloved” as well as strange invented ones.
George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s newly revised musical cleverly combines almost all of the stories into one delightful, entertaining whole. Stiles’ music is beautifully melodic while the book and intelligent lyrics by Drewe, who also directs, are superbly effective at conveying and cohering Kipling’s stories. What’s more, Just So does Kipling justice by being, in a very gentle manner, educational and thought-provoking, thanks in large part to the “satiably curious” Elephant’s Child (played by Richard Dempsey) and his constant questions.
At the “Time of the Very Beginnings”, we meet the Eldest Magician (Junix Inocian), who first created the earth, then the sea, and at last the animals. The problem is all the animals look alike, so the Magician organises games to teach them how to behave differently. But the Crab scuttles off to play his own game and causes havoc by moving the sea about and flooding the earth.
The flightless, sardonic, and very funny Kolokolo Bird (Julie Atherton) is persuaded (against her better judgement) to accompany Elephant’s Child on the journey to find the Crab and ask him to stop messing about. En route through Africa, they meet Zebra (Akiya Henry) and Giraffe (Alexis Owen-Hobbs) and engage in some terrific jive as they wrestle with Leopard (Simon Greiff) and Jaguar (Dean Hussain) Will they escape or will they be eaten? Whatever – it’s the Law of the Jungle!
Elsewhere in the animal kingdom, brought to life by Peter McKintosh’s suggestive rather than full-blown costumes, the Rhino (Nicolas Colicos) might have “no manners at all”, but he’s an absolute darling as he stomps about so crossly and heavily – and then surprises with some light-footed balletic moves.
Stephen Mear’s inventive choreography produces more terrific dancing on the “uninhabited island” where the hilariously funny Parsee Ahmet Ahmet and his operatic stove Steve Elias dance Latino-style with the cake ingredients.
A thoroughly entertaining, enjoyable evening for children and adults alike. On the night I attended, it kept the audience enthralled from beginning to end. Just So!
- Sheila Ann Connor