Underbelly Festival, Southbank
Reviewed – 6th August 2017
“… genuinely refreshing interpretation “
Metta Theatre’s Jungle Book offers a surprisingly unique take on an old classic. Reimagined as a cross cultural urban dreamscape, the production forgoes talking animals for circus skilled gangsters, graffiti artists and skateboarders. Director Poppy Burton-Morgan injects some new blood into an old tale through a hugely talented cast.
With recent remakes in the audience’s mind, this genuinely refreshing interpretation of The Jungle Book provides relief from our encroaching boredom with the story. Through a dynamic fusion of street dance, hip-hop, and enough feats of acrobatics to raise the blood pressure, the show excels with Kendra Horsburgh’s brilliant choreography. The emotional connection between the young girl Mowgli and her street wise “wolf pack” is beautifully illustrated through dynamic individual dance styles.
The spirited range of performances are without doubt, the stand outs of the production. While these little vignettes of dance scattered through the plot feel episodic at times, it’s hard not to enjoy the spectacle of Alfa Mark’s fearless aerial hooping as Mowlgi, and Nathalie Alison’s pole dancing as Kaa.
The show’s pacing however, presents something of an issue. Heavy on exposition, Act I entertainingly tours well known elements of the story, albeit with the confusing addition of Mowgli’s mother. From then, the narrative struggles to make much impact in Act II. Mowgli’s return to the grey “city suits” serves as a reminder of the urban jungle metaphor and not much else. The show is simply less interesting when focused on Mowgli’s self-discovery rather than the push and pull of the jungle’s vibrant animal inhabitants.
The pace reaches a peak with an imaginative strobe lighting police raid on the “tiger” Shere Khan. The cast once again proving that the show is reliant on their ability to move with a crackling energy with limited props across a sparse stage.
The latter half of the show alerts the audience of the wider social issues threaded through this production. The occasional rap reminds the audience of the colossal themes of cultural integration and acceptance that are deserving of more stage time. Crucially relevant nuances of class struggles appear as something of an afterthought, overshadowed by the dazzling acrobatics on display.
However, the good intentions behind pulling such a classic into the frame of 21st Century multi-cultural class divides, offers a hopeful message for its young audience, and a welcome fresh take for adults familiar with the tale.
The power in Metta Theatre’s Jungle Book resides firmly on the shoulders of its seven performers. Their exuberance and indisputable talent carries the show through its narrative stumbling, giving real emotional depths to this pulsing adaptation of Kipling’s classic tale.
Reviewed by Isabelle Boyd
is at The Underbelly Festival, Southbank
until 24th August