Oddsocks take The Jungle Book back to its roots

Mowgli in The Jungle Book
Mowgli in The Jungle Book
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Acclaimed company Oddsocks Theatre are returning to New Theatre Royal with their new adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic The Jungle Book.

Based on the original stories with a big helping of Oddsocks humour, it follows the adventures of Mowgli the man-cub as he battles to survive and become the leader of the pack.

We like to work on lots of different levels, so there are political jokes in there, social references, comedy references, to the original and the Disney cartoon version, as well as stuff that’s going on

Actor and director Andy Barrow

With music, muppetry, laughter and excitement all mixed up ,they promise to make it a memorable experience for the whole tribe.

Director Andy Barrow, who also plays Shere Khan and Horace, leader of the Bandar-log monkeys, tells The Guide that their small, but well-drilled cast have to keep on their toes: ‘Apart from Mowgli, everybody plays several roles, there are only five in the cast.

‘We’re constantly changing – costumes, movement and voices – all sorts of things. You kind of learn the backstage route as much as you do what you’re doing on stage. It’s all part of the rehearsal.

‘It’s all settled down now, but during the first run of performances I’d reach the point where I’d come off stage as Shere Khan and stand there going: “I know I’ve got to do something...” Then one of the others would say: “Elephant”, oh yes, right and I’d go off and change. It took a good week or so before it beds in and becomes second nature.’

With the majority of the characters being animals, the Oddsocks team were keen to make their interpretations stand out.

‘We had lots of discussions before starting rehearsals about how do we play the animals?

‘At what level do we change from human to animal – there’s a limit to what we can do as four-limbed creatures playing snakes or birds, so it’s a mixture of puppetry, costumes and movement.

‘But we do have a life-size elephant that comes on, and Kaa the snake, and birds and monkeys swinging on ropes and all sorts of things.

‘It’s about showing the essence of an animal – Shere Khan is a man-tiger, he has to walk on two legs and speak but he also has to have the essence of what it means to be a tiger.

‘We looked at the intensity of focus and hunting and things like that - we did a bit of drama college research,’ he laughs, ‘rather than just walk around in striped onesie.’

They also wanted to make it a show for all ages – not just children.

‘We like to work on lots of different levels, so there are political jokes in there, social references, comedy references, to the original and the Disney cartoon version, as well as stuff that’s going on.

‘We try to mix it up, and at the end of the day tell a good story as well.’

Of course, the shadow of the classic Disney animated film looms large over any attempt at The Jungle Book.

‘It certainly hit my generation,’ says Andy. ‘I remember it as a kid. In a way the latest Disney version, the live action version, has enabled us to break away from that a bit, as it’s not the only version people refer back to now.

‘It allowed us to go back to Rudyard Kipling and look at what he actually wrote.

‘I wanted to try and get away from the Americanisation of it and go back to Kipling.

‘Although he was English, it was a long time ago, so a lot of those views are irrelevant, so we’ve tried to make it Indian, make it relevant, and, bottom line, a family story with a decent message.’

New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

February 9-10

newtheatreroyal.com