The Concrete Jungle Book – The Pleasance, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Dominic Garfield

Composer: Duncan Burton

This inner city take on Kipling’s The Jungle Book is noisy and chaotic, but HighRise Theatre ensures that this story of homelessness feels urgent and important. Influenced by rap, dub reggae and drill, the songs are the best things in this vibrant production.

In this version of Kipling’s classic tale, Mowgli is now Mo, a 16-year-old girl growing up in a children’s home but when prospective foster parents come to visit she is always overlooked. Not knowing that her protector Bagheera is about to adopt her, Mo runs away into the city. With dangerous gangs stalking the streets, Mo quickly has to learn the laws of the jungle. Writer/director Dominic Garfield is surprisingly faithful to the early parts of the original story and soon Bagheera and Baloo, a veteran of the streets, set off to rescue Mo from the violent gang who have taken her in.

Considering that there were last minutes changes to the cast on press night, all the performances are strong. It may take awhile for Lauryn Louise to embody the character of Mo, but this journey reflects Mo’s growing confidence as she faces the consequences of her mistakes. By the end of the show, Louise’s voice is loud and clear. Lesley Rietta Cobbina doubles up as the harried owner of the children’s home, and as Baloo, always dragging behind her a shopping bag on wheels up and down the steps of Ethan Cheek’s graffitied set design. She does well in both roles, and her singing is often electric.

There is good work, too, from Joseph RA Lindsay as Bagheera, and his rapping is quick, but all the words are audible. The chorus, playing Mo’s friends in the children’s home and the gang members on the streets, is comical with Michael Mbozo getting most of these laughs while Jack Boal’s gang leader is a camp delight. If the Pet Shop Boys did UK Drill, then Stand Up and Survive would be the result.

While some of the scenes drag a little, including the one when Baloo and Bagheera meet Kaa (Mbozo), the songs are too short, especially as they bring so much energy to the room. The reggae infused This Is Where We Live could easily have another verse or two, likewise Cobbina’s Too Tired. They are good songs, and all are crowd-pleasers. Occasionally, the music is too loud and the lyrics hard to decipher, but this may be a problem with the room rather than with the volume dial set high.

For such a young cast, some of who are performing professionally for the first time, The Concrete Jungle Book is an enjoyable 80 minutes, and with time the jagged edges of this production will become smoother, but hopefully not too smooth. The energy is infectious, and the ambiguous end is a triumph.

Runs until 11 June 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

loud, chaotic and fun

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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