The Jungle Book (The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays)

Metta Theatre's The Jungle Book ©Richard Davenport
Metta Theatre’s The Jungle Book
©Richard Davenport
upstaged rating: 

Metta Theatre are front runners in cross art form theatre practice and this week they’ve somersaulted into The Lowry, Salford with their refreshing and radical interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, The Jungle Book.

Using a vibrant and intoxicating fusion of hip-hop, street dance, circus and storytelling, Metta’s Jungle Book is suitable for all ages 8 and up. Thing 1 (age 11), a dancer and Thing 2, (almost 8 and a keen back flipper) were gripped by the acrobatics, agility and aerial hoop display. The production swaps the original setting of the Indian jungle for the mean streets of the urban jungle in Britain, which may initially be a strange concept for younger children who are big fans of the cute Disney version. Though pleasingly, Metta Theatre challenge the well-loved tale and turn it on its head. Quite literally.

Adapted by Metta’s visionary director, Poppy Burton-Morgan – Mowgli (Nathalie Alison) is a lively young girl with a shock of black hair who has been brought up by Akela (Matt Knight) and his pack of skateboarding wolves, after finding herself abandoned. The beat-loving bin man Baloo (Stefano Addae) delivers a prologue which serves introduce the audience to each of the characters – be prepared for a graffiti artist Baghera (Kloé Dean), a pole-dancing Kaa (Ellen Wolf) and an intimidating ‘bone-breaking’ (wince) Shere Khan (Kaner Scott). It’s a clever conceit – each of the main characters are still present but they have been reshaped to reflect multi-cultural Britain and the way society views those who go against the grain.

Designer William Reynolds’ effective set of street lamps and barriers is perfectly suggestive of the concrete jungle and provides the perfect playground for the performers to dangle, pivot and climb. 

Kendra J Horsburgh’s striking choreography sees the performers fill the stage with flair and grace. Ellen Wolf displays remarkable strength and mastery as she curls and hangs from a street lamp as Kaa and Matt Knight’s Akela demonstrates superb acrobatics and street-dance skills. Nathalie Alison shines as Mowgli – weaving, spinning and balancing with absolute finesse and beauty.

The Jungle Book positively bursts with creativity, talent and passion. Each performer excels at their own individual skill and as each character, but the ensemble are at their most impressive when they occupy the stage together. This is a highly captivating show for younger theatre goers to enjoy, though cleverly, it offers a more mature social commentary on the Kipling classic – making it suitable for children and adults alike.

-Kristy Stott

The Jungle Book runs until Saturday 2nd September 2017 at The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

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