Life of Pi – Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: Skylar Mabry

Writer: Yann Martel

Adaptor: Lolita Chakrabarti

Director: Max Webster

Life of Pi is an almost flawless production of an unerring, moving story. This captivating story is told beautifully and powerfully by an expert team of performers and technicians. Those who might have interacted with this story before are sure to find something new in this production, and those who haven’t, are sure to be enraptured by Pi Patel’s thrilling tale.

Before the show even begins, the audience is greeted by a billowing cloth on which is projected the steady waves of a calm ocean. This sets the precedent for the show: innovative stagecraft working effortlessly to create the perfect environment for nuanced performance. Each moment has been carefully crafted to communicate exactly the right message and tone, and the company collaborate seamlessly to make this incredibly challenging task appear simple.

This is the story of a young boy, stranded in the middle of the ocean and left to fend for himself in the midst of perilous circumstances. Based on the 2001 book by Yann Martel, Life of Pi starts in a hospital in Mexico. Pi Patel is coaxed out of hiding by a nurse and two official-looking women. They are there to hear Pi’s story – specifically how an Indian boy on his way to Canada found himself adrift, and what happened to the ship which was supposed to be transporting him and his family to Canada. Pi is not the witness they’re expecting, and soon we’re whisked back to his family’s zoo in India in the mid-late 1970s. As his tale progresses, we find out that Pi has a special connection to the animals, an interest in God of all kinds, and that his family decides to sail away from India for safety. Once they board the ship, it becomes a story of survival, resilience, perseverance, strength, faith, and remarkable human spirit.

The first thing of note in this production is the puppets. They are engineered and controlled so expertly that they occupy the space just as characters in the story. The ensemble and puppet team deserve tremendous recognition for their stylised yet realistic creations. These puppets are supported deftly onstage by a technical design that creates an impressive range of textures and life to the stage – from a flat, clinical hospital to a lively, colourful market to a thunderous, raging sea storm. Every understated element paints a detailed, striking stage picture, but Andrzej Goulding’s projection design is particularly effective.

Divesh Subaskaran is the perfect representative of Pi. He is empathetic, curious, intelligent yet immature, and so easy to love. Subaskaran’s performance is brilliant, but it would be nothing without the skill of the company around him. Life of Pi is made incredible by the dexterity and precision of the puppeteers and ensemble. This small cast collaborates perfectly to create each new stage picture and to punctuate this story with stunning yet understated performances. For a story that could easily depend on overwhelming spectacle to impress audiences, this production carefully selects the best moments and avoids over-saturation.

With a captivating story, unmatched stagecraft, and stirring performances, Life of Pi is a show that is not to be missed. Although it is over 2 hours long, the time is well-spent and passes swiftly. Get your tickets while you still can, and don’t miss this stellar show.

Runs until 17 February 2024 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Wildly captivating perseverance

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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