Review: Jungle Book, Theatre Royal, Windsor
Ok, this review is super-quick, because you have approximately three hours to book your tickets, grab the kids and get out the door to see tonight’s 7pm show. And I do think you should see it. Although, please be warned it is a VERY different Jungle Book to the original. There are no animals. I repeat NO animals. I just wish someone had told the poor old dear I bumped into during the interval who was comforting her three grandchildren with a rather perplexed expression on her face, saying, ‘I mean really, what a shame, not even the monkeys were dressed as monkeys?!’. I think she might have missed the point.
Park any preconceptions you had about the original story and think Urban Jungle as opposed to er, jungle jungle, and you’re already halfway there. Metta Theatre has created an incredibly visionary interpretation of the Rudyard Kipling classic, using recognisably human animal characters set in a modern urban city and exploring directly what it means to find your place within the many ethnic/social/class-based tribes that make up society in 21st century multicultural Britain. Oh, and they also manage to do all of this using a mash-up of modern day circus, street dance and spoken word. I did say it was visionary!
The characters are cleverly re-intepreted into human form: Mowgli a young girl who after being separated from her mother, falls into the clutches of gangster rapper, Shere Khan; Baloo, the beatboxing bin man; the skateboarding Wolf crew who accept Mowgli into their gang; Bagheera, the graffiti artist panther and so on.
And just as Mowgli in the original story struggles with the decision to return to the village, so here Mowgli is encouraged by others to return to the ‘suits’ in the city where she belongs. Each character has a specific piece of music and form of dance so you instantly recognise them as they tell their story and blend with the other characters on stage. And of course in order to fit in, Mowgli has to learn them all.
The stage is pretty bare, nothing but a few street lights and a couple of metal crowd barriers used to signify everything from Mowgli’s playpen to prison bars when Shere Khan later gets imprisoned. But it’s amazing what is achieved with this pared back set and some clever lighting and music. And there is very little dialogue, the few words which are spoken (mostly by Baloo who narrates the tale) are in rap and rhyme.
There is however a lot of very cool and very impressive dancing – from hip-hop to breaking; popping to krumping (I’m sure I had that for breakfast this morning) – and incredible circus and acrobatic skills too. Nathalie Alison who plays Kaa began her circus training aged 13, and Natalie Nicole James who plays Mowgli is a movement and circus artist who performed as part of the Beijing Olympics torch ceremony. All the cast have great credentials and it was hard to pick a favourite really as they all stood out when it was their turn to shine.
Highlights for me included an amazing pole dance performed by Kaa the Snake on a street light in order to mesmerize the monkeys (it certainly mesmerised my husband!). Mowgli’s return to the city and trying to adjust to eating in a posh restaurant and wearing her suit, which causes the wearer to start walking/dancing like a robot. There’s also a great sequence when police search the city for Shere Khan – the lights go off so the stage is in total darkness with the only light coming from the police torches.
I’ll admit Shere Khan might have got a little bit more of my attention than some of the other characters… particularly in the second act when he does an incredible solo dance ‘unfortunately’ without his shirt on (I averted my eyes of course). Played by Dean Stewart who does an amazing job, and has a list of appearances on his bio from theatre to film to TV, including the StreetDance films, dancing with the Sugababes on tour, AND he was a Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist (I have no idea why he didn’t win – if it was that flipping dancing dog that beat him then there really is no justice in this world).
As much as I loved the set dance sequences, my only complaint is that a few of them went on for just a bit too long and felt a little self indulgent. The point had been made and then got laboured a little bit much. But it’s a minor niggle in a show that overall was highly entertaining and a brave interpretation of a classic tale. Not many people would have the guts of director Poppy Burton-Morgan and choregrapher Kendra J Horsburgh to take such a well-loved story and turn it completely on its head. Literally.
There were lots of children in the audience, some quite young, but I’d say it’s probably best suited to children 8 and above as really little ones might get a bit bored with the complexities of the story. My youngest is nearly 8 and was getting a little fidgety by the second act, but overall seemed to enjoy it. Teens in particular will probably love all the street dancing.
I’ll let my two monkeys have the last word:
Personally, I thought it was a good all round performance apart from some of the scenes going on a bit. I thought Shere Khan and Bagheera acted particularly well, also the woman who played Kaa the Snake was amazing too. I especially liked the baby Mowgli scene with the empty baby suit, it was very clever how the cast moved her about. The dancing and gymnastics were exceptional in my opinion. I completely recommend it to other people and suggest you go and see it. (J aged 9).
5 Things I liked about The Jungle Book (P aged nearly 8).
- I liked ALL the dancing.
- My favourite character was Baloo.
- I liked the snake and all her gymnastics.
- My favourite part was when Mowgli discovered the Red Flower in the BBQ.
- I disliked, nothing.