Immersion Theatre brought their adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book to The Kenton Theatre this half term and it really was a holiday treat for all the family. The theatre was packed with babies, toddlers, children and adults, an excited crowd, amidst a swirl of atmospheric smoke and a backdrop on stage of leaves and twisted vines, vibrant hues of amber, green and yellow.
As the auditorium darkened and the crowd hushed, Baloo the Bear, played by James Tobias Clifford, burst onto the stage in a rush of music and light. ‘Hello, Henley, let’s get wild,’ he cheered. The audience cheered back. The puns started straight away as Baloo said he could ‘bear-ly wait to tell us his swinging tale.’ Bagheera, played by James Stirling, far more reserved, but equally as funny, joined Baloo on stage and they burst into song, a lively number about jungle life, that really had the audience clapping along.
In a cleverly scripted show written to entertain both young and old, there were jokes for everyone. Physical mishaps and slapstick for the children, while the adults chuckled at more relevant humour. On discovering Mowgli, Bagheera says, ‘he is wrinkly, weird and won’t stop moaning, just like Jeremy Clarkson.’ Later, Shere Khan, played by James Gulliford, talking about his previous exile from the jungle, moans he ‘spent years in a desolate wasteland, Reading.’
The villain, Shere Khan, always arrived on stage with a flash of pink light and a chorus of boos. With perfect timing, he really was quite scary, despite his twinkling, stripey costume. He didn’t hold back with insults to the audience calling them all ‘bedwetters’ or ‘brats’ along with a sinister laugh. Later, to shocked gasps, he threated to ‘turn Peppa Pig into a fry up.’
True to Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the audience was introduced to all the familiar characters including, Baloo, Bagheera, Shere Khan, Kaa, King Louie and the monkeys, the elephants and of course, Mowgli, played by Dilara Greene. Costumes were simple but effective and all adorned with fun sparkles. Kaa’s costume was impressive, as it wound around Rochelle Parry, who played him, and who used the costume’s head as a puppet. Similarly, the set was multi-functional, with only one change, when Mowgli joins the monkeys in ‘Sim City.’ The cast didn’t need fancy sets, or costumes because they were truly fantastic. Full of energy, able to improvise when young members of the audience shouted out, and changing characters swiftly and effectively. It is a story we all know but they brought it up to date, made it a lot of fun and really ensured the audience was truly engaged.
The audience was constantly called upon to get involved, either clapping along, cheering or when the elephants were on stage the audience were encouraged to stand up and march with them. In the style of a pantomime there were moments of ‘he’s behind you,’ or ‘oh yes he did’, or ‘oh no he didn’t,’ which was great fun. Declaring that the jungle is a hot place and they have found a way to help everyone cool down, Baloo and Bagheera turned water guns on the audience to the excited and delighted squeals of the children. And, of course, there was toilet humour.
You’re a poo!’
Jokes aside, the songs and choreography were original and very well executed. In place of the Bare Necessities, the cast sang a catchy number, which repeated several times throughout the performance. ‘When worries come your way, don’t stress simply say, no cares allowed round here today.’ A beautiful yet high energy song, which really highlighted the meaning behind the story. There were tender moments too, memorably, as the mother wolf says goodbye to Mowgli when he begins his journey to the man village, she sings, bathed in blue light, ‘Mowgli, our little Mowgli.’
In a final dramatic showdown between Shere Khan and Mowgli, there was a high-paced fight scene and flashing lights. The audience held their collective breath to see who would win. Baloo falls down and Mowgli, momentarily looks in danger. It was tense, and exciting. But then Mowgli brings on stage a glowing flame and Shere Khan flees, changing from a fearsome tiger, to a whimpering scaredy cat, as he screams, ‘I want my mummy,’ and runs away.
With Baloo laying injured on the stage, Mowgli and Bagheera mourn him, but in the background Baloo begins to stir. The audience went wild shouting to make them aware of Baloo’s revival. A great moment. With Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo all safe and Shere Khan gone, Baloo delivers a final message: ‘Family is about love. We are all the same. You are enough.’
The Jungle Book ended with a loud, prolonged and well-deserved applause. It was a spectacular piece of family theatre, with something for everyone, and a great way to spend a half term afternoon.