Review: Jungle Book (Young People’s Theatre)

image of two people in the bottom right of a large set with a shadow of an elephant and a jaguar - from Jungle Book at YPT Photo of Matt Lacas and Levin Valayil and by Rick Miller.

Updated multi-media rich adaptation of The Jungle Book sure to please

***NOTE: The rest of run has been cancelled to respect social-distancing requests around COVID -19

Jungle Book – an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic works written & directed by Craig Francis & Rick Miller is on stage at Young People’s Theatre until March 21.

It is an immersive theatre experience perfect for children and families. The mainstage theatre transforms into a multi-dimensional living storybook, teaching all about the importance of relationships, wildlife and the consequences of colonialism. This performance is recommended for ages five and up and is inviting school trips from senior kindergarten to grade six.

This is a modern take of the classic children’s story. We begin in the concrete jungle of New York City, where we meet an architect named Mowgli (played by Levin Valayil). He reads to us from his childhood diary, which he calls his Jungle Book. It talks about how he was raised in an Indian jungle by a family of wolves. Following along on his journey, we meet an array of animals and learn the laws of the jungle. Mowgli then joins the human world, where he teaches the importance of respect, relationships and the consequences human actions have on the animal world.

In addition to Valayil, who plays only the role of Mowgli, three other performers take to the stage – Mina James, Matt Lacas, Tahirih Vejdani – each serving multiple roles as people and animals. The actors’ skillful efforts bring the story to life. They use puppetry, shadow, and song (original composition by Suba Sankaran) to tell the story.

The cast makes the production of the piece seem easy; however, I am quite impressed by the choreography of the performance. As each actor quickly assumes different characters, effortlessly manipulating their props and costumes.

Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill’s detailed costuming and beautiful set also help bring the story to life. There are three scrims – a type of screen/material that can facilitate lots of different kinds of performance, like shadow puppets, for example – present at the front of the stage, as well as a large one at the back. The actors bring the show’s magical characters to life through performances in front of and behind the screens.

Irina Litvinenko has designed a multi-media presentation that transforms the space into the forests of India. The technical production of the stage brings together a multi-dimensional theatrical performance, and the actors carry this even further as they often enter the audience and break the fourth wall.

My favourite part was watching the young captivated viewers direct the ‘bad guy’ to different incorrect areas as he searches for an actor hidden amongst the audience seats, trying to throw him off the scent. As a performance meant for kids, I expected some restlessness amongst the crowd. However, the children were quiet and fully engaged through the entire performance. Little giggles filled the audience, and the only time the kids yelled out was when the characters asked them to.

The show is seventy-minutes with a short Q&A period following for the children to ask anything they would like. They seem to have more sophisticated questions than most adult theatre question periods. Some youngsters ask why they were moving behind the screen and how certain technical aspects worked.

Although performing for a young audience, parents and families of all ages will enjoy the show. A great way to get the youngsters not only involved in theatre but introducing them to relevant and timely themes.

 

Details

  • Jungle Book is playing until March 21 at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5A 3Z4). (***NOTE: The rest of run has been cancelled to respect social-distancing requests around COVID -19)
  • Shows times vary with some shows specifically for schools and groups. Members of the public are welcome to attend weekday school performances, subject to availability.
  • Ticket prices range from $10 – $43.
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.862.2222 x2, or in person at the box office.

Photo of Matt Lacas and Levin Valayil and by Rick Miller.