The Jungle Book
CAROLINE CULOT Noriwch Theatre Royal
> Noriwch Theatre Royal
Parents and children crammed into the Theatre Royal yesterday for a half-term treat but I wonder how many left feeling slightly disappointed.
This is not a stage version of the Disney classic so don't go hoping to sing along to cuddly Baloo and the Bare Necessities or I Wanna Be Like You. This is not a bad thing – I'm all for the Rudyard Kipling tale being told to children without all the famous Disney additions.
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The problem with this production, the first major theatre adaptation of the Jungle Book, by the Birmingham Stage Company, is with audience expectations. First, because of the title you can't get away from memories of the 1967 classic movie and its Academy Award-nominated score and second, because of other shows in a similar vein like The Lion King.
This Jungle Book, though boasting a terrific set (rather like being in the Rainforest Café) and costumes, is not a blockbuster musical. What it is, is a very honest production which adheres to the Kipling, containing mostly dialogue and with a few songs.
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In my opinion, it really is for children of school age and up who can cope with a wordy production – this show is not about grown-ups in big furry costumes. It does contain a few burps and jokes for children but this is where the show loses itself and strays into the area of panto. Yesterday there seemed to be many children who were really too young for this show and talked throughout – probably because they were bored.
For a show half way through its tour, I would have expected it to have been quicker in pace with sparkier dialogue between Baloo (Tony Jayawardena) and Bagheera (Alex De Marcus.) A temporary sound problem made the singing very unclear in the first half.
John Cockerill as Mowgli gave an enthusiastic performance but I never imagined this character having a Midlands accent.
It's always wonderful to see companies attempt new productions and I can't help but think we haven't really seen the best this show could offer.
It finishes its tour in the West End for Christmas so let's hope by then it gets a bit more of a roar from the critics than a whimper.