Jungle Book review: Hip hop and circus skills create an urban parable

Forget Kipling and Disney for a sparkling production that counters colonial and sexist conventions

 

Everyman Theatre, Cork

★★★★

There’s very little left of Rudyard Kipling in this Metta Theatre version of The Jungle Book, staged as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Adaptor and director Poppy Burton-Morgan has turned the original text upside down like a bag from which most of the contents are emptied. What’s left is just Jungle Book, a bare-bones version offered as a counter-blast to colonial and sexist conventions by asserting the characters as predominantly female and totally urban.

In fact this sparkling production should come with a warning - it’s not Disney, it’s not cartoon, it’s not Mowgli and Bagheera and Baloo as youngsters might still be expected to know them or to expect them. In this forgivable borrowing the intention is to surprise. Surfboards and hoodies and stark street lights reveal an urban environment with its raptor gangs and rap-paced narrative demonstrating Metta Theatre’s trademark fusion of genres. Hip-hop, break-dance, rap verses, gymnastics and startling trapeze skills combine in a display of subtle agility and style. The adaptation creates a parable of individual - and especially female - independence in modern city life.

Thrilling choreography offers pole-dancing as we’ve never seen it before with Nathalie Alison as Kaa folding herself around a lamp-post like a snake whose second skin is cling-film. Natalie Nicole James shares the acrobatic and aerial credits with Alison, but also works as Mowgli, the little girl who is raised by a pack of wolves and is befriended, or threatened by, other jungle animals as she grows up. Here the wolves are street-gangs and the man-pack is The Suits.

Where the metaphor trembles a little is with the resolution as Mowgli returns to the jungle; the laws of the city streets are not so sustaining as those of the wild and it is just possible that in this incarnation Mowgli has made the wrong choice.

Until June 21st

Mary Leland