Watermill Theatre - The Jungle Book
18th November to 31st December 2021
This Jungle rocks
The Watermill's magical Christmas production is filled with whimsical adventure and brims with energy
The Watermill’s magical Christmas production of The Jungle Book, adapted and inventively directed by Tom Jackson Greaves, is filled with fun whimsical adventures and brimming with energy from a delightfully multi-talented cast of actor-musicians.
A towering knotted tree fills the upstage area with a neon sign with the message: “You belong here, this is your place.”
Hanging colourful clothes and shawls adorn the stage and a handcart is centre stage with lit blocks depicting the city towers – all create a fantastical immersive world.
The charismatic Guido Garcia Lueches is outstanding as Tabaqui the Jackal, the mysterious storyteller who charms the audience with his winning smile as he relates the tale of the lost cub “looking for their family just like us”.
Karishma Young plays the vulnerable Mowgli in this gender neutral casting who is desperate to find out “who I might be – when I can’t see anyone who looks like me?”. She skilfully uses dance as a method of communication and establishes a warm rapport with the audience.
Mowgli is brought up by the wolf pack and then adopted by the jungle animals Bagheera the panther (Philippa Hogg) and Baloo the Bear (Rowena Lennon), who are the surrogate guiding parents to the young cub teaching the ways of the jungle.
Alexander Bean plays the stately councillor Wolf and Kaa the python and has a powerful singing voice.
All are trying to protect Mowgli from the predator killer tiger Sheer Khan, the suave yet dangerous Peter Ashmore.
There is so much to enjoy in this family-friendly production, including the peanut disco party with the mischievous monkeys living it up to the full. Dom Coyote’s dynamic music is both catchy and emotional. Jasmine Swan’s wonderful colourful set and costume designs are a delight and enhanced by Andrew Exeter’s emotive lighting.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable production, the perfect start to the festive season and richly deserved the enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Review from The Times.
A sometimes over-earnest 21st-century take on Kipling’s tale
Rudyard Kipling, famously labelled by George Orwell a “jingo imperialist”, would probably be startled by this progressive new take on his collection of stories. Tom Jackson Greaves, its adaptor, director and choreographer, turns the adventures of man-cub Mowgli in an Indian forest into a 21st-century musical tale about identity, otherness and healing division.
Mowgli, beautifully played by the dancer Karishma Young, is represented as non-gender specific and referred to by the pronouns they and them. In its eagerness to put across its message of inclusivity the show is sometimes over-earnest. Its garbled narrative lacks drive, and fizzles out in a confused conclusion of political homilies and vague togetherness. Yet the performances are warm and beguiling, the cast of six actor-musicians powering through the plot’s meanderings with dexterity and charm. In Jasmine Swan’s design and Andrew Exeter’s lighting there is a green neon sign hanging in the branches of an overarching tree. “You belong here, this is your place” it reads. Our guide is Guido García Lueches’s charismatic Tabaqui, a jackal and a sort of ukulele-playing wandering minstrel. As Mowgli, Young doesn’t speak, instead expressing emotion through balletic movement. She’s mesmerising, and rather more eloquent than Sanah Ahsan’s strenuous lyrics to Dom Coyote’s folk-pop songs.
Aside from the occasional use of small rod puppets the community of animals are mostly subtly suggested with touches of fur or velvet — although Alexander Bean’s bass-singing Kaa the snake is costumed with drag-queen extravagance, with a glittering headdress and long taffeta train. Philippa Hogg’s silken Bagheera the panther and Rowena Lennon’s cuddly Baloo the bear carefully co-parent Mowgli; the monkeys are a troupe of chattering social media influencers. More ambiguous is Peter Ashmore’s Shere Khan the tiger, who enters playing slinky violin. At first this regal beast simply seems to want to turn Mowgli into a “cub-meat sarnie”, but there’s a brief and somewhat baffling sequence in which he has a nightmare about being forced to dance in a circus — a hint of a backstory that is then abruptly abandoned.
“How will I know who I might be/ When I can’t see anyone who looks like me?” asks one of the more memorable numbers, as Young’s bright-eyed Mowgli searches for human connection. It’s a shame that Jackson Greaves didn’t give that quest a stronger structure and a few more thrills. This isn’t king of the swingers, but it’s winningly sweet-natured.
There are reviews from What's On Stage ("a life-affirming quest for identity and a wonderfully inclusive seasonal show for all ages" - ★★★★); Musical Theatre Review ("a superb demonstration of how non-verbal communication can express not just words but thoughts, emotions and opinions" - ★★★★); PocketSize Theatre ("a very topical and clever adaption... an enchanting production for young families" - ★★★★).