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Life of Pi - Review

“Life of Pi” is a puppetry masterpiece, a breathtaking visual feast that captivates audiences and leaves them wanting more. Adapted from Yann Martel’s acclaimed Man Booker Prize-winning novel this production embarks on its inaugural UK tour following a triumphant West End run. Winning five Olivier Awards, including Best New Play, “Life of Pi” promises an unforgettable theatrical experience. 

 

Life of Pie
The Bengal Tiger and Pi (Dinesh Subaskaran)

Dinesh Subaskaran delivers a compelling portrayal of Pi, a young man who lives in a zoo with his family in India. Seeking a new life, they board a cargo ship bound for Canada, accompanied by a menagerie of animals. However, tragedy strikes when an epic storm in the Pacific Ocean leaves Pi stranded on a lifeboat with a Zebra, an Orangutan, a Hyena, and a Bengal Tiger. The puppetry in this production is nothing short of extraordinary — designed by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, these creations are divine works of art. Skilfully manipulated by the cast, the puppets are brought to life, their movements fluid and dynamic, creating the illusion of sentience. The Bengal Tiger was particularly breathtaking, its movements so accurate and the actor's vocalisation felt so real. 

 

Following 227 harrowing days adrift the lifeboat, Pi at last finds refuge on the shores of Mexico, where he is taken to an institute to recover. There, he receives a visit from Mrs. Kumar (Sharita Homer), a Canadian embassy worker, and Mrs. Okamoto (Lilian Tsang) of the Japanese Ministry of Transport. They seek Pi’s first-hand story leading to him being the sole survivor of the sunken ship. While the exchanges between these characters feels weighted with exposition, they serve an integral role in advancing the plot.  


Life of Pi
Orange Juice the Orangutan

The technology used in the flashbacks and dream sequences is truly incredible. Projections on the walls and floor transport the audience to alternative realms, while clever sound manipulations, including reverberation and other effects, serve to further immerse viewers in Pi’s extraordinary journey, distancing other characters from his more natural sounding voice. 

 

Throughout the production technology dazzles the stage, from vibrant colours illuminating the set to the revolving floor — all contributing meaningful advancements to the wonder beholden on the stage. However, there were instances where key characters found themselves inadequately lit. For instance, within the first five minutes, Pi delivered a monologue in complete darkness. Fortunately, such glitches didn’t derail the productions overall impact, quickly drawing spectators back into the awe-inspiring grandeur unfolding before them. Nevertheless, when a production is boasting both Olivier and Tony awards for ‘Best Lighting’, it must be commented on.  

 

One of the aspects I admire about “Life of Pi” is Pi’s ongoing struggle with religion and the quest to define his beliefs in the face of adversity, routinely asking for help from multiple gods; Subaskaran masterfully captures this internal conflict. While adrift at sea and teetering on the brink of insanity, Pi is visited by manifestations of his family — his mother Amma (Goldy Notay), his father (Ralph Birthwell), and his sister Dani (Sonya Venugopal) — each offering guidance and encouragement. However, I found it somewhat disconcerting that all actors had character appropriate accents apart from his family. While Pi’s accent aligns with his Indian heritage, his family members speak with distinctly British or American accents, which struck an odd, but not detrimental, note in terms of characterisation.  


Life of Pi

Overall, “Life of Pi: is an extraordinary theatrical achievement. The on-stage spectacle is truly mesmerising and stands as my pinnacle of puppetry mastery. Undoubtedly, this production is destined to become a continuing favourite, drawing audiences time and time again. I wholeheartedly urge everyone to seize the opportunity to see the incredible blend of sound, light, and puppetry in this current iteration. Catch the show at Nottingham Theatre Royal until April 20th, 2024, before it concludes its run at the Lowry Theatre in Salford on July 6th. 


Life of Pi
Promotional image

 

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