Wyndham’s Theatre, London
The wait has been worth it! A truly stupendous show from beginning to end… It’s only happened a handful of times in my theatregoing life, but at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre I had the urge to leap to my feet and instigate a standing ovation. In fact, I felt that way as the interval arrived, the show was that good. And it only kept getting better from there.
The occasion was the long-delayed production of Life Of Pi reaching the West End. It is absolutely outstanding in just about every single aspect and features at least half a dozen moments which drew huge intakes of breath from the capacity crowd, they are that astonishing. And yes, it did get the standing ovation as the audience rose as one immediately the play finished.
Maybe it’s partly because we have all been denied the live experience for so long but there was a marked sense of a special occasion and anticipation as the auditorium filled. The stalls of the Wyndhams Theatre have been reconfigured, so they are “stepped” affording everyone a very clear view especially of the stage floor which is absolutely crucial to getting the full experience especially in the scenes set at sea. I don’t know how it all worked when the piece debuted back in June 2019 at the Crucible in Sheffield but here it was absolutely mesmerising with lighting designer Tim Lutkin and video designer Andrzej Goulding transporting us out of our seats and plonking us into the middle of the ocean. Along with the cinematic quality soundscapes of Carolyn Downing the show was a continuous assault on the eyes and ears which by the end of part one had me reeling with delight.
But, of course, at bottom this is still a stage play and without a decent narrative, well drawn characters and top flight acting the spectacle would be just that – a mere spectacle. Fortunately, Yann Martel’s absorbingly original novel has been carefully reconstructed via an intelligent and sympathetic adaptation from Lolita Chakrabarti. She flips the narrative backwards and forwards through time from the Mexican hospital where Pi recuperates to the Pondicherry Zoo where his adventures begin, the voyage to Canada on the fated ship Tsimtsum and the seemingly endless time he is stranded on the lifeboat with the tiger Richard Parker. It’s a real scenic challenge for designer Tim Hatley which he executes stupendously. And the transitions are so brilliantly staged that even if he’d done nothing else (and believe me he certainly has) director Max Webster could be proud of a real coup. Talking of coups, in most shows you will be lucky to see one coup de théâtre. I counted at least three with one of them in the second half being one of the most audacious things I’ve ever seen in a live theatre piece (definitely no spoilers here).
‘Absolutely outstanding in just about every single aspect’: LIFE OF PI – West End
‘Absolutely outstanding in just about every single aspect’: @JohnChapman398 is ecstatic to report that @LifeOfPiWestEnd, @LolitaChakra’s adaptation of @WriterYann’s hit novel, has been worth the 30-month wait. #LifeOfPi #LifeOfPiWestEnd #theatrereviews