Review: The Jungle Book, West Yorkshire Playhouse

A scene from The Jungle Book
A scene from The Jungle Book
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The main stage of the Playhouse, the Quarry Theatre, is a beast that devours any director not confident enough to grasp it without fear.

Liam Steel’s production of The Jungle Book tames the beast by smothering it with a stunning set that reaches from wing to wing and even out into the auditorium.

However, even when a production gets the set absolutely right, it still needs to put performances on the stage that have heart and soul and a story that is going to take you on a journey.

This production of The Jungle Book falls sadly short of achieving that.

Based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling, this is a far darker and much more moralistic telling of the tales than that put on the silver screen by Disney in 1967.

It is not the case, as you might suspect, that this stage version is on a hiding to nothing in the face of a Disney behemoth which it follows. Yes, the Disney musical was iconic and the songs penned for that version are sung by many generations still, but the story at the heart of Kipling’s books is powerful enough to even overcome the memory of a Disney version of the story – if it is told well enough.

A boy raised by a pack of wolves: it’s a great idea. What movie-makers call the tagline is enough to intrigue. Here the story of how Mowgli comes to be protected by Raksha the she-wolf sets out its stall pretty quickly as a re-telling that is not going to shy away from any darkness.

Unfortunately in the telling of the story there appears to be a lack of coherence. Why are the villagers speaking with what sound like Northern accents from west of the Pennines? Why does Mowgli have a Cockney accent? Why make the rapping monkeys who attempt to lead Mowgli astray, depicted as bling-loving rude boys, so wildly annoying? While the music is captivating, the lyrics are not. Mainly because you can’t really hear them as a result of poor diction. As Mowgli, Jacob James Beswick is watchable, his acrobatics impressive, but he lacks a connection with the audience.

Daniel Copeland is fun as Baloo and Colin Connor as Buldeo, the man who would bring death to the jungle, is amusing at times.

The problem is these flashes of good performances do not add up to a coherently enjoyable piece of work.

To Jan 18. 0113 2137700, www.wyp.org.uk