Coming hot on the heels (or maybe that should be paws) of the new movie version of Jungle Book this production’s as fresh as a just picked prickly pear, rebooting the whole thing for a modern audience with a rapping bin man called Baloo, Bagheera the graffiti artist and pack of skateboarding wolves. Yep, we’re talking the urban jungle here, transplanting Kipling’s well loved classic to the inner city streets, which sadly may well be a much more dangerous place for a young Mowgli these days.
Combining street dance, rap and circus with banging beats it’s a bold and fast paced show that cleverly weaves the threads of the original into something new whilst adding a little social commentary (‘the suits’ portrayed almost as automatons and the obvious issue of inner city gang culture for instance) into the mix. There’s relatively little dialogue, arguably the story’s well known enough to get away with this and a handy scene by scene synopsis given out to the audience fills in any gaps, which frees up the cast to put on some mighty impressive physical displays.
Using street lamps as poles there are some particularly brave face first slides stopping just an inch or two from the ground which, if they went wrong, could well result in Baloo (winningly played by Stefan Puxon) having to sweep up the performers teeth at the end of the show. The ring work’s strong too with a dizzying set of spins from Mowgli (the instantly engaging Natalie Nicole James) at the end of Act One that would leave most mere mortals needing a lie down for a month or two and a beautiful piece with the equally talented Nathalie Alison as Kaa the snake. Sssssssssssssssssstunning.
Her nemesis, Shere Khan, menacingly portrayed by Dean Stewart (who looks like he’s been carved out of granite) pops some equally impressive moves and the whole cast enthusiastically throw themselves around the place throughout the performance whilst neatly reflecting their particular animal spirit, in turn echoed in the music accompanying their scenes. Ending on a suitably positive note with Mowgli finally finding her voice the whole audience were roused from their seats by Baloo for a little boogie, huge fun for the young...and the young at heart.
Produced by London’s award winning Metta Theatre, expertly directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan and featuring performers from Cirque du Soleil and Zoo Nation Jungle Book’s an invigorating, hip (hop) and smart adaptation that's littered with lovely subtle touches (Baloo’s broom as a mic stand, his interaction with the audience after the interval and some simple but very effective puppetry behind the baby Mowgli). Trust me on this one, you ‘Khan’t’ afford to miss it.
Jungle Book is on at Exeter Northcott Theatre until Saturday April 30th. Tickets available right here right now.