DramaFeaturedReviewSouth West

Life of Pi – Theatre Royal Plymouth

Reviewer: Marina Spark

Writer: Yann Martel

Adaptor: Lolita Chakrabarti

Director: Max Webster

There is a tangible air of anticipation in the Theatre Royal Plymouth as the audience awaits the start of the stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s highly regarded novel, Life of Pi. A range of ages fills the audience, demonstrating the multi-generational appeal of this global phenomenon.

The bestselling book-come-blockbuster phenomenon has been adapted for stage by Lolita Chakrabarti. The plot follows Pi’s story, taking her from a politically tumultuous India to nautical tragedy and eventual salvation. Her journey is profound, otherworldly, and deeply harrowing, yet offers a sense of hope. Philosophical overtones of life, faith, and death feature heavily throughout and the production is not shy in addressing some major theological questions for both the faithful and the atheist.

The puppetry, designed by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell (the latter also directing the puppetry and movement), is quite simply outstanding. Each puppet, from the fluttering butterflies to the powerful and majestic Bengal tiger, is expertly crafted to fuse the human and puppet elements in such a way that the animals feel real. This, combined with the sound effects from the skilled puppeteers, lead the audience to quickly forget that they are not watching a actual animal. As well as being effective puppetry, this really builds atmosphere, giving the audience a sense of threat and tension throughout.

The performances are flawless. Adwitha Arumugam plays Pi, the young cast away who endures hundreds of days at sea striving for salvation. Her performance is youthful, compelling, and dynamic. The rest of the cast multi-role with effortless ease, bringing a strong ensemble that complements the sense of fluidity that the plot demands. There are no weak links in the cast and transitions are seamless.

Director Max Webster’s dynamic approach brings a lively sensitivity to this epic exploration of the human condition. His use of the multi-functional set, designed by Tim Hatley, creates a visual sense of the international journey that Pi takes. The stage literally transforms between, and during, scenes to show progress and create a sense of constant motion. There are no moments where the action becomes static; instead, there is unrelenting pace and energy. The action is complemented by potent sound, lighting, and video design (by Carolyn Downing, Tim Lutkin and Tim Deiling, and Andrzej Goulding respectively) that directly interacts with the cast, who are used as living canvasses.

This multi-Olivier Award winning production is brutal, captivating, and compelling. A must see.

Runs until 9 March 2024

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. 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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