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Life of Pi Credit: Johan Persson
Life of Pi Credit: Johan Persson

Life of Pi at The Lowry: Review

Home » Reviews » Life of Pi at The Lowry: Review

It was a real coup for The Lowry to bring the multi-award-winning stage version of Life of Pi to Salford for an extended run last Christmas. The audience response was so positive that the show has returned to the venue this summer for one week at the end of its first UK and Ireland tour.

Since premiering at Sheffield Crucible in 2019, Lolita Chakrabarti’s stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s Man Booker prize winning novel has enchanted audiences and critics alike on both sides of the Atlantic, winning 5 Olivier Awards and 3 Tony Awards. How the creative team have achieved this is almost as magical as the story itself.

In a world of ever improving CGI graphics, fans of the book can readily understand the 2012 film version of Pi Patel’s fantastical sea adventure. But transferring this story to the stage feels like a feat that must be seen to be believed.

As improbable as it sounds, the stage version in many ways is more immersive than the film. Martel’s story takes us on a flight of imagination and theatre is the perfect medium to spark transformative thinking.

We first meet Pi Patel (Divesh Subaskaran) in a stark hospital setting, sparsely furnished with a single iron bed and hygiene sink. He is the sole survivor of a shipwreck and officials trying to piece together information about the disaster have arrived to question him.

So begins Pi’s amazing tale which starts at his family’s zoo in India – home to goats, hyenas, zebras, orangutangs and the latest addition, a Bengali Tiger called Richard Parker. It takes us to the bustling marketplace, where he shops for spices and engages in philosophical discussion with family, stall holders and leaders of different faiths. We see the family board a cargo ship, animals in tow, as they escape political unrest at home to set sail for a new life in Canada. We witness the disaster as water spills onto the deck and the animals escape their cages. And then it’s just a lifeboat set adrift under a star-filled sky with Pi and a handful of wild animals for company.

Life of Pi Credit: Johan Persson
Life of Pi Credit: Johan Persson

Director Max Webster injects a thrilling pace to the adventure while the creative team draw us in with stunning visual effects that mix physical scenery, film projections, immersive soundscapes and life-sized puppetry.

Subaskaran brings the perfect mix of innocence, wonder and courage to the role of Pi. Centre stage for the whole show his performance carries the emotional weight of the story with an understated narration that paradoxically amplifies the themes of loss and survival.

While Life of Pi is a show for the whole family, there is a reason the show carries an age guidance warning of 8 plus. The circle of life can be beautiful, but it can also be brutal, and the action doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of the story. We are left under no illusion that the tiger who stalks the stage can kill with one swing of his giant paw.

Life of Pi Credit: Johan Persson
Life of Pi Credit: Johan Persson

There are edge of the seat moments of great danger, moments of horror, and moments of stillness where, in an allegorical way, Pi wrestles not just with Richard Parker but with the deep philosophical questions of life and existence. He challenges the officials and the audience with his fantastical story. What do you believe? Believe the hype.

Life of Pi UK and Ireland tour is at The Lowry, Salford from 2-6 July 2024. Age guidance 8+ A European tour will follow the tour of the UK and Ireland and there are plans underway for a tour of Australia and Asia.

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Written by
Carmel Thomason
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Avatar photo Written by Carmel Thomason