The Jungle Book review: Political, emotional, yet still wonderfully magical

PUBLISHED: 11:18 11 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:36 11 April 2018

Keziah Joseph as Mowgli and the company in The Jungle Book. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Keziah Joseph as Mowgli and the company in The Jungle Book. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Manuel Harlan

We have seen many adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s famous children’s books over the years, but this new production of The Jungle Book shows just how powerful the tale’s message is in the modern age.

Keziah Joseph as Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Photo: Manuel HarlanKeziah Joseph as Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Jessica Swale’s take on the story using the classic characters we know and love – as well as a few new additions – ties together themes of belonging, identity and prejudice while still being an impactful family show.

MORE: New production of the The Jungle Book set to open at Norwich Theatre Royal

We are taken through the journey of young Mowgli and his quest to find out where and how he truly belongs in this jungle world. As villain Shere Khan tells us, ‘difference is scary’, yet the attempt to challenge this statement weaves the whole story together nicely.

Keziah Joseph gives the audience a unique take on Mowgli while still staying true to the original character. And what a voice! She belts out powerful tunes while jumping around the stage, never once faltering in her flawless performance.

The stage itself is something of a marvel, too. Rather than a more realistic and somewhat traditional approach, the setting is actually slightly urban. Ladders represent the trees and the branches, and a wooden climbing frame acts as the focal point for much of the play. The costumes also echo this feel of bringing the story into the 21st century. Again, rather than the hyper-real look, the characters wear caps, jumpsuits, sunglasses and jeans, yet it is still very much clear to a younger audience which animal they are supposed to represent.

Rachel Dawson as Kaa in The Jungle Book. Photo: Manuel HarlanRachel Dawson as Kaa in The Jungle Book. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Dyfrig Morris (Balloo) and Deborah Oyelade (Bagheera) give excellent performances as the mismatched adoptive parents of Mowgli, with Balloo providing the gimmicks and gags of the play. Norfolk’s very own Lloyd Gorman (Shere Khan) may not be the truly terrifying villain we remember from our childhoods, yet his character still embodies very real and scary problems we face in the modern day – manipulation, selfishness, reluctance to change/difference.

The music is catchy, varied and full of powerful lyrics. Jessica Swale and Joe Stilgoe together combine the feel of the jungle with the classic Jungle Book themes, using new and fresher sounds/lyrics. Both young and old are able to dance along and appreciate the tunes – from monkey raps to slower, sometimes heart-wrenching numbers.

Overall, the new show is a clever re-imagining of a classic tale in the present day. The Jungle Book’s ideas have been updated and given a new lease of life, so they are both relevant to the children just discovering them, and also to the adults reliving their childhoods. It is political, emotional, yet – and perhaps most importantly – still thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable for all the family.

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