The intimacy of Oldham Coliseum theatre makes it the perfect venue for family theatre. So, it is surprising that The Jungle Book is the first family show the Coliseum has produced outside of the festive season for over a decade.
Perhaps the growing traction for Easter pantomimes has encouraged this two-week holiday run, and it is warmly received by the youngsters and their grown-ups in the audience.
The show itself has been a long time in the making. Director, Sarah Punshon began working on it back in 2019, but the pandemic halted the production just 6 days into rehearsal. Thankfully for the team the hard work hasn’t gone to waste and the energy on display demonstrates how pleased the cast is to be back on stage.
Rudyard Kipling’s collection of short stories, ‘The Jungle Book’ has captured the imagination of children for more than 100 years. Its most famous adaptations are the 1967 Disney animation, and the more recent 2016 film which mixes live action and computer-generated animals.
Writer, Jessica Swale has given her adaptation a contemporary twist for the stage while focusing on the central themes of Kipling’s original stories of family, friendship, bravery and celebrating difference under a unity of the same sun. Fans will still recognise the central story and its characters – man-cub Mowgli, the villainous tiger Sheer Khan, loveable comic Baloo the bear and the hypnotic python, Kaa. But, here the jungle is portrayed as an urban adventure playground, with concrete underpass, skate ramp, and both steel and rope climbing frames.
The basic costumes, which give us a representation of the animals rather than a full costume, make it easy for the cast of 7 to quickly switch from one character to another. All actors works hard to keep the energy high, and the leap of imagination required by the audience means the children are invested in the action all the way through. This is helped along by Joe Stilgoe’s upbeat tunes which span a range of contemporary genres from ambient to hip-hop. There is even a nod to the Madchester days with Manc monkeys, nicknamed the Funkies, taking on a definite Gallagher swagger.
If you’re looking for a treat for primary school children this Easter, The Jungle Book is a winner.
The Jungle Book is at Oldham Coliseum from 7-24 April 2022.