REVIEW: THE JUNGLE BOOK (London Wonderground) ★★★★
The most celebrated of Rudyard Kipling’s works was given a much needed reboot earlier this year with impressive CGI animals and breath-taking landscapes aplenty. This summer Metta Theatre reweaves the tapestry again, spinning The Jungle Book into a social commentary that integrates ethnicities and backgrounds through a cast of street dancing, fast rapping, aerialist artistes. While each of the celebrated characters are still present, they have been remodelled to fit in the more realistic ‘urban jungle’ and demonstrate how society views those who don’t join the ‘suits’ of the city.
A baby is separated from her mother, a businesswoman, and encounters a renowned dangerous gangster rapper Shere Khan. Evading his clutches, the baby Mowgli stumbles across a group of skateboarders, whose leader Akela and girlfriend Raksha adopt and raise as their own even though she has come from the ‘suit’ territory. Protected by the crew’s allies, a bin man called Baloo and a graffiti artist named Bagheera, Mowgli grows up in the jungle and soon forgets her mother.
This is a very effective reinvention of an already much loved but somewhat outdated tale. Kendra J Horsburgh’s fantastic choreography sees the cast tumbling, soaring and spinning about the stage with wonderful energy. The use of animal physicality is employed beautifully throughout the show with recurring motifs that help the young children in the audience identify each character. Filipe Gomes’ fantastically electric soundtrack serves to further separate the different species, from the clipped staccato of Bagheera’s theme to the hypnotically gliding notes that arise from Kaa’s presence onstage.
The ringleader of the piece is Stefan Puxon who, as Baloo, whips the story forward with innovative, poetic spoken word and an infectiously jolly approach to his character. Bagheera’s swift feline movements are perfectly embodied by Kloé Dean and Nathalie Alison displays her very impressive strength and control as she hangs from a lamppost as Kaa. Dean Stewart’s Shere Khan oozes lurking danger as he circles the stage and stamps out a tattoo of hunger and hatred while the playful bonhomie between Ellen Wolf and Matt Knight provides some light relief as Raksha and Akela respectively. Naturally, the shining performance comes in the form of Natalie Nicole James who, as Mowgli, bounds joyfully about the space before twisting and turning through an aerial hoop with astounding grace and finesse. Each of the performers is given the opportunity to demonstrate their individual talents, of which there are many. They interact with one another with real camaraderie, keeping all members of the audience engaged, and the moments that include the whole company onstage are among the most impressive; a collective protest against the oppression faced by ethnic minorities and those that go against the grain.
While this is certainly a more mature reinvention of Kipling’s classic, the message of the piece is very clear and can certainly be appreciated by children and adults alike. Essentially, this is a show that highlights social injustice and encourages socio-economic inclusion. Using the still under-appreciated art form of street dance, Metta Theatre is certainly a force to be reckoned with, positively bursting with imagination, talent and creativity.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Richard Davenport
THE JUNGLE BOOK plays at the London Wonderground until 28 August 2016