Review: The Jungle Book is fun for all the family

This family show is educational and inclusive, with the valuable lesson of finding your place and purpose within the world

After a twenty-four month delay due to the interruption of the pandemic, The Jungle Book finally graces the stage of Oldham’s Coliseum Theatre – in a way never seen before.

Rudyard Kipling’s original book of short stories is the basis for this production, a collaboration between Jessica Swale, Sarah Punshon and Katie Scott, with new, original music and lyrics by Joe Stilgoe.

A stranded human cub is found in the Indian jungle by wolves, who plead for their leader to allow the stranger to stay, as his fate would otherwise be sealed by the paws of Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger who has a vengeance against all humankind.

Photo by Joel Chester Fildes

Mowgli, as named by the wolves, is permitted to stay provided two suitable guardians teach him the Laws of the Jungle.

Bagheera, a black panther, and Baloo, a brown bear, agree to co-parent the kid. 

Raised within the jungle alongside wolf cubs, Mowgli truly believes he is one of them, unaware of the danger that lurks behind the leaves.

As Mowgli comes to understand why he is different from the other cubs and begins to explore proactive uses for his unique features (such as fingers!), Shere Khan weaponizes his difference from the other cubs, instilling fear amongst them in an attempt to turn them against Mowgli.

Photo by Joel Chester Fildes

The cast of The Jungle Book is small but mighty.

There are only seven actors, most of which embody multiple characters throughout, seamlessly interchanging between roles.

Gareth Morgan portrays the striped predator of Shere Khan perfectly with his intimidating nature on stage as well as his distinguishable singing voice which is heard within several of the original songs. 

Photo by Joel Chester Fildes

Jason Patel is Mowgli, who successfully plays the uncertain but courageous boy who is convinced he is just, simply, a bald wolf.

Patel wonderfully demonstrates wolf-like behaviours through both physical movement and within song, where his recurring melody includes howling cries.

The bumbling Baloo is played by Neil Hurst, who brings to life the loveable bear who looks out for Mowgli.

Photo by Joel Chester Fildes

Tamara Verhoven Clyde, Ebony Feare, Tarek Slater, and Sam Yetunde are also far more than just supporting roles.

Switching between wolves, monkeys, Kaa the hypnotic snake and Bagheera, the magnitude of their talents allows the show to be effective and emotive.

The set is simple but effective, with two climbing apparatuses acting as trees, a cave-like frame sitting between two ramps and a netted structure which allows for dramatic irony, as the audience can see who is hiding in it while the characters on stage are unaware.

The sturdy structures provide a solid base for the actors to climb, jump off, and swing between on ropes, which is made doubly effective when the performers demonstrate these actions while retaining their animalistic characteristics.

Photo by Joel Chester Fildes

The music and sound effects are used compellingly, especially when sharp striking sounds are used in parallel with swiping actions, as they indicate claw scratching injuries.

The outfits are uncomplicated, with certain elements of the costumes used to specify which species of animal are present.

The wolves wear grey caps which clearly show their furry ears, with long bushy tails behind them. The monkeys – or ‘funkies’ as they call themselves – wear orange and yellow and use banana shaped props.

A warning that anyone sitting in the first few rows may get splashed – these cheeky monkeys love to cause havoc and will spray audiences with their banana shaped water guns!

Photo by Joel Chester Fildes

The Jungle Book is a contemporary take on versions previously seen, it is educational and inclusive with the valuable lesson of finding your place and purpose within the world. It is a family show, recommended for ages 6+ and goes down a treat with audiences.

Act one lasts approximately one hour, followed by a 15-minute interval. Once everyone is back in their seats, Baloo warms up the crowd with a song and an introduction as to how circumstances have changed within the jungle, before act two proceeds, which lasts around forty minutes.

This is a pleasurable, present-day adaption to experience with the whole family.

The Jungle Book is at Oldham Coliseum Theatre until 24th April 2022. Tickets are available here. Also worth noting is The Jungle Book family workshop, which is taking place at 10.30am on Friday 22nd April 2022. Suitable for ages aged 3 – 8 years old, children can design and decorate animal character masks and bring them to life with immersive drama activities. Tickets for the workshop can be booked here.

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