Unity Theatre, Liverpool – until 6 January 2017
The Unity’s Christmas show occupies a much-needed niche by virtue of it offering an affordable family show that is a panto-free zone. Brought to us once again by Ellesmere Port-based children’s specialist company Action Transport Theatre, so it is they present another beautifully crafted and understated retelling of a classic tale – this year, The Jungle Book.
Muted forest colours adorn the Unity’s black box space as lengths of material twist into branches and vines. The four actors come out to talk to the arriving audience to engage the children in animal talk, but this is about as interactive as it gets. Although the younger audience members are at ease calling out to the characters on stage if the mood takes them, it’s not the aim of the game here, and for the most part they sit in rapt attention.
It is true to the tale of man-cub Mowgli, forced to accept his otherness among the animals of the jungle where he grew up when his foe, the tiger Shere Kahn, comes seeking him out.
Asif Majid has the right mix of boyish charm and defiance as Mowgli, while Fionnuala Dorrity is a calm and reassuring presence in roles including Bagheera the panther, who along with Joe Shipman as the loveable Baloo try to guide the man-cub to the safety of the human village. Samuel Perez Duran completed the cast in a variety of animal roles.
With a 90 minute running time including interval, it’s an ideal length for introducing youngsters to theatre; however it doesn’t sugarcoat the story’s darker themes of the predatory law of the jungle, with references to killing and death. The children in the audience didn’t appear scared however, so maybe that’s just a parent’s hypersensitivity.
The reveal of Shere Kahn was worth the wait, with the slithery antics of Kaa the snake a highlight along the way. Simple, folk-style songs dotted along the way added to the atmosphere and ended things on a happy note.
A lovely, beautifully designed and engaging family show that is perfect for younger theatregoers, The Jungle Book is a tale well-told that does not overwhelm little audiences – and the Unity’s low-key approach is something a bit different this time of year that really works a treat.