Interview With… Tom Espiner

The actor chatted to LLLC’s Emma Clarendon about being part of bringing Yann Martel’s novel to the stage.

What are you looking forward to about bringing Life of Pi to the stage? The human characters in the story are beautifully written in this adaptation by Lolita Chakrabarti, and we have a fantastic cast to realise them. The animals will literally be in the hands of the cast, and we’re currently getting to grips with bringing them to life on stage using these amazing puppets designed by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell. We’re a thirteen-strong ensemble and are working together to create images which can appear and disappear in an instant. I’m really looking forward to the
moment we bring all those elements of drama and storytelling together on stage with the set, lighting, projection, sound and music and to share that with an audience!

What did you think of the story when you first read it? It’s really gripping, touching, funny, moving and thought provoking; it explores what it means to be human, and what we have in common with – and what sets us apart from – the animal kingdom. It made me think about the power of stories themselves, and how we are as a species drawn to them to
help us navigate our way through life.

Was there anything in particular that made you want to be part of this production? It’s such an exciting challenge to put this story on stage. A sixteen-year-old boy called Pi survives the sinking of a ship in the Pacific Ocean and is cast adrift on a lifeboat for months with a Bengal tiger for company. Pi’s survival requires resourcefulness, resilience and calm reason, but also hope and faith to help him through. I knew coming in that this particular creative team, led by director Max Webster, would meet this challenge brilliantly, and I wanted to be a part of it. Plus, I’ve always been very excited by the work that’s staged at the Crucible, and I’m so pleased to be working there!

What can we expect from this stage adaptation of Life of Pi? So many things! It’s going to be a visual feast full of magic and wonder, with awesome sound and a musical score (composed by Andrew T Mackay of the Bombay Dub Orchestra) supporting a compelling narrative brought to life by a brilliant cast. Expect an astounding realisation of a life-sized
tiger on stage, and a whole host of other animals. The quality of the movement that the puppeteers bring to the tiger is extraordinary… I think it will be an unforgettable night out.

It is such a unique story – why do you think it will transfer from page to stage well?  This is going to be ‘total theatre’ involving technological wizardry and creative invention. We’re using puppetry, projection, wonderful sound and music, innovative stage design and great lighting
combined with powerful, detailed acting and physical storytelling from a fine ensemble of performers. It’s not often you get all these elements combined in the theatre, but this epic story
demands it!

How have you found working on the production so far? We’re in week two of rehearsals [as of 28.5.19] and it has been amazing to be working with this fantastic cast and production team. We’ve been studying animal behaviour to get as much detail into the puppetry as possible – it’s physically demanding but a lot of fun and there is a great energy in the
rehearsal room.

What do you think it is about the story that readers and now audiences will relate to? I think it will appeal to audiences now in a world in which truth, the power of stories, the role of faith, the value of experience, the survival of our special and our entire planet are growing preoccupations and concerns for us all. It’s an extraordinary, uplifting and life affirming story which details with these ideas and may be a welcome relief from the flood of political strife and twenty four hour news culture that bombards us daily.

By Emma Clarendon

Life of Pi is at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield from Friday 28 June – Saturday 20 July. Tickets are on sale now and are available from the Crucible Box Office in person, over the phone on 0114 249
6000 or online at

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