ChildrensDramaMusicalSouth West

Jungle Book – Northcott, Exeter

Original writer: Rudyard Kipling
Adaptor and Director: Poppy Burton-Morgan
Choreographer: Kendra J. Horsburgh
Reviewer: Lucy Corley


At last: a show for young teenagers that doesn’t talk down to them. Metta Theatre’s Jungle Book has appeal for all ages, but its refreshing mix of hip-hop, circus, rap and street dance seems sure to be a hit with the 9-14 age group.

The production loses no time in exploding into life, introducing a vibrant cast of characters, each with their own music riffs and dance styles distinguishing them from the other groups in the ‘urban jungle’. Poppy Burton-Morgan’s inspired adaptation brings Rudyard Kipling’s story into today’s city streets, against designer William Reynolds’ backdrop of streetlights, many leaning and damaged like jungle undergrowth after an elephant stampede.

Kendra J Horsburgh’s fearless choreography mixes tumbling with gymnastics, hip-hop with trapeze; and mischievous Mowgli – played with charm and sensitivity by Natalie Nicole James – is at the centre of it all, scampering and cartwheeling about the set.

Kipling’s names and characters translate brilliantly to the street world: ‘Baggie’ Bagheera (KloéDean) becomes a graffiti artist and Shere Khan (Dean Stewart) could have been written as the fire-scarred rapper who rules the urban jungle with terror and threats. Street sweeper Baloo (Stefan Puxon) uses his broom as a mic and plays with rhymes in rap style.

For all its astonishing choreography, the show feels like it has been created with the public in mind – it is for everyone. It speaks unashamedly of the poverty, gangs and fear in urban life, while welcoming its whole audience into the bonds of friendship uniting Mowgli with her jungle family. The cast is universally talented, but eager to share the stage with young performers: the wolf pack are played by local dancers, trained up by the company. The two-hour show starts early at 7pm to accommodate families and younger audience members.

In keeping with Metta Theatre’s individual storytelling style, the production advocates the power of movement to convey meaning, and many of the circus moments are truly breath-taking. Watching a friendship develop between Mowgli and homeless girl Vee the Vulture (Natalie Layton-McIntosh) on a spinning hoop, their balances and tricks becoming more and more spectacular as their mutual trust blooms, the audience is captivated. Young trapeze artist Layton-McIntosh also steals the show as the hypnotic serpent Kaa, twisting and tumbling around a streetlight and drawing collective gasps from the audience with her death-defying stunts.

That said, the show doesn’t quite get the balance right between spoken word and physical theatre: for audience members experiencing a show like this for the first time, more of Baloo’s spoken word narration or the other characters’ rap monologues would help with the more complicated moments in the storyline.

It is difficult to choose a highlight, but Shere Khan’s capture by the police is perhaps the most affecting part of the show. Close to the ground, he struggles with powerful staccato moves against impossible odds. Defeated but not broken, shoulders rippling like a caged tiger, Shere Khan whispers his true story.

Runs until 30 April 2016 | Image: Richard Davenport

Related article: Poppy Burton-Morgan on the bare necessities of creating a modern Jungle Book


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