Reviewed by Louise Edwards
The Crucible in Sheffield is a wonderfully designed theatre in the round where all the seats have a perfect view and the audience are close to the action. The Sheffield Theatres production of Life of Pi premiered there at the end of June and is showing for around a month.
Life of Pi is a novel, written by Yann Martel and this production is adapted by Lolita Chakrabati and directed by Max Webster.
The stage is simple with a white hospital bed and a ticker tab backdrop tells us the setting is Mexico in 1976. Mr Okamoto (played by David KSb Tse) and Lulu Chen from the Canadian Embassy (played by Gabby Wong), are visiting Pi (a nickname given to him by this maths obsessed sister) who we learn has the real name Piscine Molitor Patel. Pi is the only survivor of a shipwreck. He survived 227 days after the shipwreck whilst stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. They are there to find out what happened.
Fourteen year old Pi (played by Hiran Abeysekera) is reluctant to reveal himself from under the bed but, tempted by food, he appears clutching a box. Mr Okamoto is impatient and wants to know the story behind his survival, to give answers to the relatives of those lost in the disaster.
His story starts as he introduces us to his family and the stage is transformed into a tropical, bustling and vibrant zoo as we meet Ma, played by the amazing Mina Anwar (who I remember as the hilarious Constable Habib in the Thin Blue Line), Pi’s Father played by Kammy Darweish and sister, Rani played by Tara Divina. Pi’s Father, who wanted to run a circus, owns a zoo in Pondicherry, India. Puppets are used for the animals with actors within and around them. Finn Caldwell is the Puppetry and Movement Director, and the animals are really brought to life with expressive movement as we meet Orange Juice the orangutan, Black and White the zebra, a spotted hyena and new addition Richard Parker, the magnificent Bengal Tiger.
The cast enter and exit from different areas around the theatre interspersed within the audience.
Pi has been raised as a Hindu but is a spiritual child and has experimented with Christianity and the Muslim faith too saying they just all have different stories but basically mean the same thing.
We learn that the Indian government is corrupt and are not supporting businesses so Pi’s Father decides to move his family and the animals to Canada where they have been offered work. They set sail on a freight ship, saying goodbye to their homelands.
As well as a stunning stage, cast and puppets, music and special effects play a key part in establishing the atmosphere and mood of the production. Andrzej Goulding is the video designer and Carolyn Downing, an Olivier Award-winning Sound Designer, create amazing results that are truly remarkable in giving the effect of crashing waves and washed up beaches transporting us to the dingy with Pi and Richard Parker.
The play switches between the hospital bed and the story as Pi tells us about the ship crashing and him being left on a dingy with the orangutan, the hyena and Richard Parker. The stage switches seamlessly and has been designed perfectly to fit in with the story. As the production unfolds the fantasy becomes more farfetched and the story less believable and Mr Okamoto loses patience refusing to believe the story Pi has created. Pi then retells the story with, instead of animals, the real life people who were on the boat with him – the ship’s captain, the cook and his own mother. This ties in with the knowledge they already have about the shipwreck. Which story do you prefer Pi then asks – of course the one with the animals!
Life of Pi is a mesmerisingly magic production with spirituality, childhood innocence and the wonder of animals at its core. It will take your breath away with the combination of music, visual special effects and astounding acting from a talented cast. Catch it whilst you can!
Tickets cost from £15 (booking fees may apply).
Life of Pi is at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield from 28 June to 20 July 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Crucible Theatre, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000