Review: Life of Pi (West End)
Posted on 10 December 2021
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Life of Pi (the novel) a few years ago, I wanted to see if the transition from book to stage would be as flawless as my imagination had painted it to be. Following a sell-out run at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, and with almost the full original cast, Lolita Chakrabarti's adaptation has hit the Wyndham’s Theatre, receiving rave reviews. The cast and creatives are the heart of this and it is clear that intricate thought and detail has gone into this production.
Hiran Abeysekera has reprised Pi, supported by Habib Nasib Nader as Cook/Voice of the Tiger, along with Mina Anwar as Ma, Payal Mistry as Rani and Nicholas Khan as Father.
In order not to spoil the show, I will set out a brief synopsis of the book's plot: Pi Patel is left stranded aboard a boat in the ocean. His family has died and for scant comfort, he is left with four companions – a Royal Bengal Tiger, a zebra, an orangutan and a hyena. He forms relationships with them, whilst at the same time trying to balance the motion of the sea and the motion of his feelings; the losses he has incurred and the uncertainty of his situation.
The beauty of Life of Pi is its puppetry. No less than four actors at one time are playing the tiger, his head, his heart, his back and his tail. He is a sight to behold, with a roar that is as familiar as those in the wild. He is also considerably bigger than the rest of the animals and the effect of him in motion is imposing and all enrapturing in equal measure. It is seamless and flawless, it is clear that attention to every detail has been paid. The detail of the colours on all the animals is 'purrrfect' in every which way from the zebra stripes to the tip of the orangutan’s nose.
The staging is deceptively simple, a boat in the blue sea. However, at one point, Pi jumps out of the boat and it is almost like magic the way he swims off into the deep blue yonder, with the light and shadow each complementing each other in equal measure. I should mention, and which I was very pleased to note, that it didn’t really matter where you were sat for the show, the staging is such that the boat and sea are that far out that if you are lucky enough to be in the stalls, do take a life jacket because it almost feels as if you are on board the boat.
I left Life of Pi feeling that I almost wanted to book an immediate return visit, just so that I could absorb all of the intricacies again. There are so many elements to this show that more than one visit is definitely justified!