This stunningly produced stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel casts a spell over the audience from start to finish.
It is a rare show indeed that manages to captivate the audience so completely, through the use of innovative set designs and puppetry Life of Pi is an extraordinary achievement that lingers in the mind long after the curtain has come down.
Based on Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi follows the fortunes of Pi and his family, who own a zoo in the Pondicherry area of Southern India but who decide to relocate due to political unrest and uncertainty in India at the time. However, tragedy occurs – leading to a darker direction for the story to take but offering plenty of opportunity for theatrical magic to happen. To say anymore about the story would spoil the drama particularly if like me you haven’t previously read the book or seen the film.
Directed with great flair and drama by Max Webster, this really is a production that outshines a lot of shows visually – and it is clear that Webster had the right team around him to bring the show to life. Tim Hatley’s set designs are incredibly intricate – I loved the innovative way in which both the zoo and ship in which Pi and his family travel on are so effectively brought to life, while the simplicity of the scenes in which Pi finds himself on the lifeboat with only a tiger for a company really showcase the sense of isolation and the test of endurance Pi is put under. Of course, right at the heart of the show is the incredible puppetry work of Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell – who bring to life the tiger, the hyena and orangutang among other animals to dazzling effect. One of my favourite moments is seeing the zoo in which Pi’s father has created and the variety of animals he looks after – watching this scene I felt a childlike joy.
It is a show that is filled with contrasts which also makes it for interesting viewing – the way in which it is able to switch moods and atmosphere – from the hilarity of the marketplace scene, comparing to the dramatic storm that takes place as the family attempt to move to Canada in a striking way – thanks to the gorgeously imaginative lighting design of Tim Lutkin and Andrew T Mackay’s sensitive score that shows deep understanding of how to highlight the key moments in the show. This is really highlighted in the second act when we see Pi struggling for survival and having to go against what he believes in order to keep going.
But it is also the way in which the past and present are so effortlessly blended really keeps the audience guessing as to what is going to happen next – complete with a horrifying twist that I certainly didn’t see coming. The way in which the story has been framed through Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation, means that despite the simplicity of the story the audience feels swept away along with Pi on his journey – there is heart, there is pain and grief but there is also joy and celebration of human endurance. Through her adaptation, Chakrabarti captures both the beauty and brutality of humanity in an insightful way and leaves the audience with plenty to think about.
The production’s new cast all deliver impeccable performances that keep the audience throughly engaged. Nuwan Hugh Perera as Pi really captures the character’s eccentricities but without going overboard with it – he is utterly convincing in his ability to show the impact of being stranded at sea that it is quite an emotional experience watching him – particularly as he learns to adapt to sharing a boat with a tiger. Elsewhere, Phyllis Ho gives a warm and sensitive performance as Lulu Chen who along with Kevin Shen as Mr Okamoto attempts to get to the bottom of what happened to Pi, while Tanvi Virmani as Rani is spirited and playful as Pi’s sister – her performance fizzes with energy throughout. Credit also should go to the wonderful puppeteers – all of whom bring the wonderful animal puppets to life perfectly in terms of their mannerisms and yet still giving them distinct personalities.
This is certainly a show that is not easily forgotten. Dazzling from start to finish, it is well worth popping along to the Wyndham’s Theatre for.
By Emma Clarendon