Pros: Set and costumes are the most inspired outcome of the company’s joint effort.
Cons: An overstretched, overlong production which should shed a third of its weight to hold audience engagement.
Taken from his family when he was a toddler, Mowgli (Nnamdi Oli) is adopted by a family of wolves and raised in the Indian jungle as a part of the pack. Responsibility for his education lies with the bear Baloo (Paul Robinson) and the black panther Bagheera (Joe Newton), who teach him the law of the jungle and which animals he should steer clear of. His archenemy is Shere Khan (Michael Howard), a ruthless tiger who seeks revenge against humans for the killing of his mother.
As a young adult, Mowgli faces increasing isolation from the pack, who are uncomfortable with his difference from the other wolves. Compelled to return to human society, he approaches the nearest village, where he is adopted by the elderly Messua (Joanna Harker). Mowgli’s quest for identity encounters a new challenge, as villagers decry his beastly habits and his acquaintance with the wild animals of the jungle. Once again rejected, the boy returns to the wolf pack, guiding it towards the final defeat of the evil Shere Khan.
This adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book includes many episodes from Mowgli’s life, including his abduction by monkeys and his rescue by Bagheera and the python Kaa (Jessica Jane). Abiku Theatre’s main fault here is to include too many of these side stories in their rewriting, distracting the audience from the main topic: Mowgli’s refugee status and his struggle to find integration within the group.
Running for nearly three hours, with an interval, the play is very engaging to start with, but becomes increasingly tedious as the dramatic crescendos raise and fall in the passage from one episode to another. Especially in the second half, some scenes are distracting, and bring a meagre contribution to the audience’s enjoyment. Amongst these is the wounding of the jackal Tabaqui (Maximillian L’Olive), which is unnecessarily diluted despite L’Olive remarkable characterisation. L’Olive shines throughout the play, as does as Jessica Jane in her multiple roles.
A well-directed use of all the available space inside the Brunel Tunnel is enhanced by dim lighting and simple props. The low-budget costumes are inspired – such as the fabric offcut tied around Jane’s waist which becomes Kaa’s long tail, and some colourful bandanas that represent the cheekiness of the Bandar-log monkeys.
Abiku Theatre Company’s attempt to revisit The Jungle Book by highlighting one of the most resonant themes of our times is promising, and is fleshed out by an exceptionally talented cast. However, to really strike a chord, this play needs to shed a third of its weight, and not stick so literally to the book’s familiar narrative structure. Instead, it should concentrate on the inner journey of the outcast boy’s struggle for acceptance.
Original Author: Rudyard Kipling
Music and adaptation by: Joe Newton
Director: Jessica Jane
Producer: Abiku Theatre Company
Booking Link: https://www.designmynight.com/london/whats-on/theatre/mowgli?t=tickets
Booking Until: 11 August 2018