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THE JUNGLE BOOK (article first published : 2007-07-14; last edited : 2008-09-7)

Having been out of town for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, I have missed most of the productions running in Durban for the holiday season. However, tonight I managed to catch KickstArt’s The Jungle Book presented in association with The Playhouse Company which is running in the Playhouse Opera and has a few more performances until it comes to the end of its season on Sunday.

Director Steven Stead has done a great job. Most of Durban’s top actors are in the cast and they have been well chosen for their roles – Sean de Klerk is a spunky Mowgli who starts off as an exuberant fun-loving youngster but eventually shows his leadership mettle as he takes over as head of the wolf pack.

Peter Court is a wonderfully arrogant Sher Khan The Tiger and his sidekick, the sycophantic jackal Tabaqui, is a delicious Belinda Henwood complete with little squeaks and wiggling walk. Between them, Peter and Belinda stride off with the honours and their song and dance sequence is a treat.

Anthony Stonier – almost recognisable except for his erect stance and impeccable diction - is the glamorous rock python Kaa while Roland Bartlett and Darren King are excellent choices as Mowgli’s other teachers, the exuberant bear Baloo and the laconic black panther, Bagheera. Jailoshini Naidoo handles two parts with credibility – the worldly wise storyteller and the outspoken wife of Akela, leader of the wolf pack. The respected and ageing Akela is also a completely unrecognisable Iain Robinson who many people will know as performance poet Ewok.

Michael Gritten nearly steals the show as the Monkey King (as well as playing a wily village huntsman) and Marc Kay is pert and energetic as the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. The rest of the youthful cast add to the enjoyment of the production.

Greg King’s set is a psychedelic and mildly chaotic wonder of jungle flowers, rocks and ivy. His puppets and masks bear his distinctive creative stamp – the impressive Sher Khan mask, to name but one. With Peter Court, Greg has designed some imaginative and effective costumes, Janna Ramos Violante’s choreography is light-hearted and breezy and Farley Whitfield’s lighting design sets the whole package off well.

In his programme notes, Steven Stead reminds us that Rudyard Kipling wrote the stories found in The Jungle Book in the late 19th Century and it has never been out of print since. Disney produced a cartoon film in 1967 and this has been the only reference point for most youngsters ever since. “In our new adaptation of the book for stage, we have gone to great lengths to restore some of the qualities of poetry and exoticism we encountered in the book,” says Steven. KickstArt has also endeavoured to re-introduce the Indian element to the story by using traditional Indian music and bhangra beats.

Evan Roberts has composed and arranged some delightful music but we didn’t get the full value of this and here lies the only area where the production falls down. The sound design was not crisp and clear enough for the audience – me, anyway (I may be half blind but this means that my ears work extremely well to compensate) – so many of the lyrics were lost as was some of the dialogue.

There are only three performances left – tomorrow (two shows) and Sunday. Tickets R80 (R60 children under 12) booked through Computicket. There is no discount for pensioners or students on advance booked tickets, but on presentation of the appropriate ID at the box-office on the day of the performance, concession seats of R60 each may be purchased for cash only. NB: This production is not suitable for children under four years of age) - Caroline Smart

That besides, this is a top notch production and if you can catch it before it closes on Sunday, I suggest you really make the effort.




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