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Life of Pi - beautiful and brutal

The first time I encountered "Life of Pi" was when author Yann Martel won the Mann Booker Prize in 2002, selling over fifteen million copies worldwide.

I was completely captivated by this fantastical tale, which had me totally hooked and my imagination in riot. The second was the award-winning 2012 film directed by Ang Lee with its wonderful and stunning visual effects. So, I couldn't begin to imagine how Lolita Chakrabarti could adapt this for the stage without losing the sense of wonder and escapism that the story provides.

In June 2019, the play premiered at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. It was later transferred to the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End in November 2021. The play received numerous awards, including five Laurence Olivier Awards (with Best New Play), five UK Theatre Awards (with Best New Play), and Best New Play at the Whatson Stage Awards.

Life Of Pi is the hugely popular story of an epic journey of endurance and hope. Five survivors, including a hyena, zebra, orangutan, young boy, and Bengal Tiger, are stranded on a lifeboat after their cargo ship sinks in the Pacific Ocean.

I loved the atmosphere created on stage by the ingeniously designed set which transformed seamlessly from hospital to market, cargo ship to the sea, all punctuated by such beautifully divine music, special effects, projections, lighting and sound effects which transported us to the romanticism of India and the terror of a storm at sea.

The puppetry and movement were authentic and effective. The animals brought to life with such coordinated discipline and detail, they became real and were believable, especially Orange Juice the orangutang as she swung onto stage and the stalking movements of Richard Parker the tiger, his twitching ears, swishing tail and breathing movements.

Such great use of the ensemble made you believe there were far more actors in the cast than was true, and how they balletically and beautifully created the creatures of the sea, portrayed the floating wreckage, and the detailed movements of the raft as the sea pushed against the oars was at times truly astounding.

Pi, played by Divesh Subaskaran was convincing and loveable, his comic timing very natural and his accent palpable, so why was his family so quintessentially English? It didn’t make sense, and to me, it was a missed opportunity to make the show even more authentic.

This story adaptation from book to stage didn’t completely work for me, especially in the first act which from memory (ok, it was over 20 years ago since I read it) seemed to concentrate on the first two or three chapters of the book. However, in the second act (where it mainly happened for me) the story was really brought to life.

Overall, the production team, cast, and ensemble collaborated marvellously, and I applaud them highly.

Life of Pi can be seen at Milton Keynes Theatre all week until Saturday 23rd, so do get your tickets soon!

Reviewed by: Shahnaz (Shiny) Hussain


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