As visual entertainment, Jungle Book in the Spiegeltent at London Wonderground was quite mesmerising. However as a remake of the original Rudyard Kipling stories, for today’s audience, I kept losing the plot.
Metta Theatre, the group established in 2005, began developing this show in 2013. They clearly aimed to set this book in the urban jungle, rather than the literal one, and I can see why that might be a good idea for a modern day audience. However, there were several points when I could not follow the reason for a scene or keep up with the no doubt important symbolism that Metta was trying to convey. There was little dialogue, therefore the plot and the characterisation had to be clear from what you saw on stage, and I don’t believe it was. The written synopsis which you receive along with the cast list and credits is as long as a Shakespeare tragedy. I felt this was a great pity because there is a lot of talent on stage, there are great moments, I was willing it to be a big success, but I was left wishing they had not tried so hard to be ‘visionary’.
But there were a lot of positives about the show: it is a mixture of newer art forms, for instance acrobatics, street dance, hip hop dance and circus moves. The narrative is led by Baloo (an amiable rapping street cleaner), there are skateboarding wolves and Bagheera is a graffiti artist. Like the classic Disney film and the recent 2016 film remake, the story centres on the story of Mowgli, played by Natalie Nicole James, whose interpretation is very engaging and whose skills in the aerial hoop are astounding. There is a scene between Mowgli and Kaa the snake (played by Nathalie Alison) on the hoop above our heads which is quite magical and moving. Kaa the snake also slithers around a street lamp in a pole dance which gives new meaning and expression to the activity.
The kids’ favourite character was Shere Khan, the gangster rapper (tiger) played by Dean Stewart, with a six pack to die for. He certainly looked the part with his tiger skin over his shoulders and his rippling muscles, and he did a good job as the villain of the piece.
At the end of the show, the cast do a final number and get the whole audience to join in with clapping and dancing. This is obviously how they feel happiest and the most comfortable – entertaining and dancing to a crowd – and I was reminded again that I would have preferred to watch the acrobatics, street dancing and circus routines without the confusion of the storyline. I am all for updating old texts with a new slant, but sometimes the quality of the performances are enough without needing any other gimmick. Nonetheless, we all enjoyed the show, and on leaving the warm Spiegeltent on this sunny August afternoon, my son set off down the South Bank trying to perfect his street dance moves.
For more information on Metta Theatre and its next productions, see their website here.
London Wonderground continues on the South Bank until 25th September and more details of its cabaret, circus and family entertainment can be found here.
Disclaimer: We were given free tickets to see Jungle Book for the purpose of this review. All opinions and photos are my own, apart from the production photograph by Richard Davenport and the trailer which is copyright of Metta Theatre.