Although Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, written in 1894/5, is beloved by children, the stories it tells are full of the harsh realities of hunting, survival and prejudice. The jungle animals and their relationships with each other, and with humankind tell us a great deal more about Kipling's outlook on life and how he felt himself an outsider, than is evident from the Disney version.
Happily, although it's billed as a family show, Rosanna Lowe's adaptation for Northampton Theatres pulls no punches in telling the story of the baby, Mowgli, rescued from the tiger (Shere Khan) by Raksha, the Wolf Mother, to be brought up among the wolf pack and educated by the panther (Bagheera) and the Bear (Baloo) in the ways of the jungle and its creatures.
The 'Law of the Jungle' is uncompromising in its strict natural justice, and all the inherent cruelty and ruthlessness of its various inhabitants, as well as their beauty and playfulness is vividly portrayed in Lowe's production. The danger of Mowgli's exclusion, first from the wolf pack and later from the man village seems very real, as the fun of his jungle school with the affable Baloo and the watchful Bagheera gives way to his adventures with the rascally monkeys and the mighty elephants - and at last to his deadly feud with Shere Khan.
Arnie Hewitt's Mowgli visibly and wonderfully grows from mischievous urchin into a resourceful, though confused being caught between two worlds. He's supported by superb physical performances from the other principal performers. Georgina Roberts is equally outstanding as the fiercely protective Raksha and the dangerously sinuous Kaa the Snake. Anjali Jay makes an elegant panther and a delightful Dulia - destined to be Mowgli's human companion. Miltos Yerolemou is everyone's favourite as burly Baloo and Jude Akuwudike pulls of a terrific double as Akela the Wolf and Hathi the Elephant. Alex de Marcus relishes his two unscrupulous villains - Shere Khan and his human equivalent the hypocritical hunter Buldeo.
And from the opening scene when the wolves eyes glow from their Council Rock, the whole vision is gloriously unified by Paul Dennant's lighting, Arun Ghosh's music and Diego Pitarch's simple, evocative set and costume designs. Wire masks outline each animal profile and the cast ingeniously captures the movement quality of four-footed kind. The young supporting cast are especially exciting as monkeys swarming over the largely young and totally entranced audience.
- Judi Herman (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Northampton)