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Jungle Book

Robert Wilson and CocoRosie (music); adapted from Rudyard Kipling;

Factory International and Theatre de la Ville-Paris

Aviva Studios, Manchester

March 27-31,2024; 1hr 15 mins (no interval)

The Law of the Jungle - the cast of Jungle Book. Pic: Lucie Jansch, Theatre de La Ville Paris
The Law of the Jungle - the cast of Jungle Book. Pic: Lucie Jansch, Theatre de La Ville Paris

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For many of us, the Jungle Book conjures up Disney's cute man-cub, Mowgli, and cuddly big bear Baloo. Or maybe, if you were a cub scout, you might think of your leaders, Akela; leader of the wolf pack, and Bagheera, the protective black panther.

This is a very different adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's stories.

Kipling was born in British India and his stories were clearly influenced by the culture and folklore of that country. They were written for his daughter Josephine and first appeared in magazines in 1893 – fables using animals to demonstrate human behaviour and themes.

The main story concerns Mowgli, adopted by wolves and learning the law of the jungle, only to doubt whether he really belongs with the animals or with mankind.

This version is directed by Robert Wilson and is the UK premiere, following performances in Paris, Florence and Antwerp. It has a somewhat artificial visual style and uses a blend of speech, dance and music, including live contributions that go down well.

The set is spare – it has some symbolic green to depict the jungle – but works well with the boldly lit backdrop, which is used to greatest effect when showing the characters in silhouette.

Some elements are less successful. The inclusion of another of Kipling's tales, The White Seal, while thematically linked to Mowgli's story, seems something of an add-on. There are also times when it was difficult to understand the words from members of the international cast. Notable exceptions, though were Aurore Deon as the narrator, Hathi the elephant, Aline Belibi as Bagheera, and Dora Sugani as Mowgli. It was good to hear poetic lines lifted from Kipling.

Wilson has said this Jungle Book is intended to be an "ode to otherness", celebrating how tolerance and understanding are vital to the world. This is most clearly stated in the catchy closing song "Law of the Jungle", which the audience really appreciated.

This production is suitable for ages six and up, and while it might not be everyone's cup of chai, it certainly seemed to be enjoyed by youngsters as well as adults.

More info and tickets here


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