REVIEW: The Jungle Book at Unity Theatre

Review by Paige Edge

Photo: Brian Roberts

When we think of Christmas shows, we immediately picture a flamboyant festive Panto and a hurrah of “he’s behind you”‘s, offering fun for the children and even hidden jokes for the adults. However, Nina Hajiyianni’s adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, The Jungle Book, provided a slightly different showcase last night at Unity Theatre, utilising the best of Liverpool’s local talents. The design and execution of the performance last night brilliantly balanced the divide between creating a show which was both entertaining and informative for your little ones, and yet, an interesting and welcomed spectacle in its own right.

Photo: Brian Roberts

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tale, Hajiyianni’s adaptation of The Jungle Book follows the story of Mowgli, a “man cub” raised by a wolf pack in an Indian jungle who was left alone as a baby after the death of his family at the hands of the evil tiger, Shere Khan. Mowgli is taught the ways of the jungle through a whole host of his animal acquaintances, such as Bagheera, the black panther, and Baloo, the lovable and lumbering bear. Yet, the boy faces many challenges (including a dangerous encounter with hypnotic, deadly snake, Kaa, and a humorous kidnapping by King Louie, the giant orangutan) as he comes to terms with the differences between him and his jungle friends. Fear amongst the animals kicks in when Shere Khan returns to take his revenge on Mowgli for the injuries he received from the “red flower” (fire) while fighting the man cub’s father. Bagheera and Baloo are trusted with taking Mowgli to the only place they know Shere Khan won’t follow, the nearby man village. Mowgli soon realises that adjusting to life in the village is harder than it seems and he decides to leave, only to come face-to-face with his nemesis. In order to scare the tiger, Mowgli takes the village’s red flower, proving man’s violence and dominance over the animals and becoming what he always feared.

Photo: Brian Roberts

Hajiyianni’s production has the audience gripped from the get-go due to the way it utilises its modest team. Using only four actors to set the scene by walking us through the noises of the animals in the Indian jungle and explaining that there is no real book – the jungle is the book (the actors’ confusion of this is met by a number of chuckles from little excited audience members), the crowd’s imaginations are soon captured and transported into another time and place. The energy which resonates from the talented cast, and the fluid movements they adopt as they “transform” into different animals, makes for an extremely entertaining watch – teamed with fun and informative songs during each scene change to ensure the kids never miss a beat!

Photo: Brian Roberts

Asif Majid is flawless, fun, and heart-warming in his portrayal of protagonist Mowgli who undoubtedly captures the hearts of the audience and whose plights are met with not a few “oohs” and “ahhs”. Samuel Pérez Duràn continually wows rows of wide-eyed little ones through his hilarious (and acrobatic) King Louie, and his downright hair-raising depiction of Shere Khan. Fionnuala Dorrity effortlessly transcends between the characters of sinister serpent, Kaa, fiercely protective Bagheera and the the woman in the man village (who touchingly demonstrates the harsh nature of humans against animals). Last but certainly not least, Joe Shipman has us all in stitches as Baloo.

Photo: Brian Roberts

Without revealing too much,  one of our favourite aspects of the production is found in the ingenious costumes and puppetry which was met by a number of awestruck faces and even a few exclamations of: “Is that snake real?!”. Hats off to the production and design team for the clever execution of this.

Thank you to Unity Theatre and Action Transport Theatre for a truly exciting and uplifting production which is definitely not just for kids!

The show is running until Saturday 6th January 2018. Don’t miss the chance to see it – grab your tickets here!

Performance Information:
THE JUNGLE BOOK
Running Time: 90 Minutes (inc. interval)
Venue: Unity Theatre, 1 Hope Place, L1 9BG | 0151 709 4988
Dates: Friday 1st December 2017 – Saturday 6th January 2018
Times: Various
Tickets: £14/£12 (£12/£10 Concessions)