Life Of Pi is the novel written by Yann Martel and later adapted by David Magee as an Oscar winning film. A further adaptation to the stage (by Lolita Chakrabarti) premiered in Sheffield in 2019. Fast forward to 2023, and the production has seen an extremely successful West End and Broadway transfer and is currently embarking on its first U.K. national tour.
The story tells of Pi, recounting their life growing up in India with their family owning a zoo. When the Indian Prime Minister declares a state of emergency across the country, the family attempt to emigrate to Canada taking their animals with them. Whilst out at sea onboard the ship, the family encounters a storm. This ultimately sinks and miraculously leaves two survivors onboard a life boat in the Pacific Ocean. Pi and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Translating this story to stage was never going to be easy. Attempting to portray a hospital, zoo and characters stranded at sea on stage is challenging, however magic is made largely due to the impressive input of the entire creative team. Puppet designers Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell have introduced a whole host of large scale puppets which are characters in their own right. The realism of each of these is, at times, quite frightening and would be easy to forget they are being operated by puppeteers. Whilst the puppets are the true stars of the show, the ensemble cast make the scenes come alive by portraying fish and butterflies. Whilst it doesn’t sound like much of a contribution, they elevate scenes and further expand us to the realistic world.
Richard Parker, the bengal tiger is played by a cast of three which rotate each evening. At this performance he was mastered by Akash Heer, Romina Hytten and Katie Kennedy-Rose respectively. The movement (directed by Finn Caldwell) of each animal is unbelievably realistic and precise, with the tiger being particularly impressive. Observing how the three weave in and around props, and other cast members, was fascinating and truly made the tiger come alive as if it was really on stage.
If unfamiliar with the story, it could be assumed to be a children’s show due to the allure of the animal puppets. However younger viewers would see the brutality of the circle of life right before their very eyes aswell as themes of death and trauma. Something to bear in mind if you’re looking for a family show this festive season.
Set and costume design (Tim Hatley) is authentic and encapsulates the settings, particularly India, perfectly. We are transported to the streets of an Indian market and the inside of the family zoo seamlessly. The transitions are simple and with the opening of a few doors, a ship is on stage seemingly out of nowhere. The design is clever and utilises each part of the stage perfectly.
Lighting and video design (Tim Lutkin and Andrzej Goulding) work hand in hand perfectly to further convince the audience of the tale unfolding before our very eyes including the dramatic storm at sea. For this show viewing from the circle seating area of the theatre would be the perfect place to experience this fully, as floor and weather projections add to the realism and believability which is missed from the stalls.
At this performance Tanvi Virmani played Pi. Tanvi portrays the 17 year old with innocence, determination and above all else compelling storytelling. In the moments she is stranded in the ocean with a tiger, you can truly feel her vulnerability and desperation whilst also injecting light humour into the troublesome moments. Max Webster's direction demands a rigorous performance from our lead dealing with complex themes such as trauma, realism and religion.
Life Of Pi is a roar-some visual spectacle of surviving through unimaginable odds in Pi’s enthralling world.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography provided by The Lowry