Life of Pi
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 27 January 2024
Lolita Chakrabarti’s stage adaption of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel Life of Pi has landed on Tyneside this week on its first UK tour. It is clear for all to see why it won 5 Olivier Awards including best play. The show is impressive and it is totally understandable why the audience members left saying "amazing" to their companions as they left.
The publicity said "After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, there are five survivors stranded on a single lifeboat – a hyena, a zebra, an orang-utan, a sixteen year-old boy and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, who will survive?"
The tale begins in a hospital. Piscine Molitor Patel is hiding under the bed as two visitors arrive: someone from the Canadian embassy and another from the insurance company assessing why their ship had sank. They want the lads story as he is the only survivor. My goodness - he delivers a story and a half.
Divesh Subaskaran is really captivating as Piscine - a name that is quickly shortened to Pi - he really has the theatre in rapt attention as he recalls how his family went from a zoo in India to a ship trying to escape during the troubles. Assisting him is a tight ensemble cast. It is the puppeteers and their ability to work as a team as they control a range of animals from a goat and a zebra through to the legendary Bengal tiger that Pi shares his lifeboat with. The puppetry works really well.
But there is more to the show as the lighting, projections and moving boat also combine to bring the tale to life. The audience get to see the rocking boat and the interaction/ripples with the water around it. We were perched above the stage and could see the projections down on the stage itself.
The pace is fluid and even. The show runs at just over 2 hours, including interval, and this leaves no room for extra flannel. Add in Divesh's storytelling skills and I believe that the theatrical show was much more captivating than the movie - give me a large tiger puppet over cgi special effects any day.
Though the show is a tale about a young man surviving in the company of animals - this is no "Disney" tale. Nature takes its course: Richard Parker, the tiger, is quite happy to feast on the pet goat when the opportunity presents itself. This of course helps give the tale an edge.
Life of Pi is a stunning piece of theatre.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos by Johan Persson.
Life of Pi plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 January 2024. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.