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  • Writer's pictureRosie Sharman-Ward

REVIEW: LIFE OF PI @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH

🎭 Life of Pi 

📍 Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR

🗓 Wednesday 6th March 2024

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️



DAZZLING AND BEGUILING - WITH PUPPETS!


This glorious, astonishing show absolutely dazzled me. Ten minutes into the first act I was completely in love with the magical sets, music and high-octane feel that sweeps its audience along with it. 


The opening scene is a sparse hospital ward where a 17-year-old is being questioned about the sinking of the cargo vessel, Tsimsum.  Named Piscine by their Mamaji, or respected Uncle, after a memorable swimming pool in France, this person is clearly traumatised and further distressed by the hectoring tone of their interrogator. After some mollification and persuasion, they start their tale. 


Suddenly the show bursts on the senses in waves of colour and detail. The tale begins in Piscine’s family-owned zoo in Pondicherry, India. Here Piscine announces to the family they are changing their name to Pi after relentless teasing by schoolmates. All around are the sights and sounds of rural India. Pi’s family are warm, loving and squabbling in equal measure. The rapidly changing cage walls, the cast weaving dancelike around the stage delivering their lines pulls us further into the narrative leaving us slightly breathless. 



Then come the puppets – wow! I can honestly say I have never seen such amazing puppetry. So much kudos to Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes for bringing this magic to the stage. In the expert hands, and bodies, of the puppeteers they are the animals. Moving and sounding so like the live creatures it is uncanny. From the matronly Orange Juice the orangutan and Black-and-White the zebra to the fish, birds and butterflies they are brilliant, entrancing, endearing or, in the case of Hyena, just horrible. The first moment Richard Parker, the majestic Bengal tiger pads onto the stage chills run down my back. He is truly awe inspiring. I can still hear that roar reverberating around my head! 


Running parallel to the warmth of Indian sunshine and humorous family interchanges is a disturbing darkness that remains as an undercurrent throughout. Unrest and rebellion are knocking at the door and Father repeatedly warns his family that man is the most dangerous of all the animals. Pi’s family must leave India taking their animals with them. 



The eponymous star of the show was played by Adwitha Arumugam for the performance I saw. She is on stage from the first moments to the last. A taxing tour de force which she carries off superbly, never missing a beat. I loved every minute of her energetic, emotive portrayal of Pi. We shared her feelings from sunlit joie de vivre to despair, from courage to terror. The moments she draws on the experiences and teachings of her family to rescue herself are poignant and quite beautiful. Her relationships with the animals endearing but real. The character she draws is profound yet youthful. An astounding performance matched by the entirety of the amazing cast, many of whom play multiple parts and people the show with excellent, relatable personas. 


I was reluctant to see the Life of Pi initially. I had struggled with Yann Martel’s book so was disinclined to enjoy it. Within moments of being carried away to “Pondicherry” this reluctance turned around completely. Lolita Chakrabarti’s deft touch with the narrative and, I suspect, firm direction by Max Webster won me over as the pacey production whisked me in. I was completely invested even before I met Richard Parker. It is a tough, tragic story of survival and self-preservation yet at no time is the feel onerous or miserable. The animals are true to nature, not remotely cute. There is much humour and some laugh aloud moments entwined with the grit and endurance. The sets (Tim Hatley) and fabulous video projections (Andrzej Goulding) are powerful and delightful. Enhancing and illustrating the story, they formed some of my favourite moments. As for those extraordinary puppets, they are wonderful, memorable and have set the bar very high for future productions. 



The enigmatic story that is the Life of Pi leaves many questions unanswered and has always been thought provoking. There is a great deal of hype preceding this stunning show, in my opinion it exceeds all of it. I am so glad I saw it and strongly recommend everyone does even if, like myself, they found the book a tough read. How else will you choose which version of the story you prefer? 

 

Life of Pi runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 9th March before heading off for the rest of the tour. Tickets are selling fast and there is already limited availability for some performances. Head to www.theatreroyal.com soon to avoid disappointment. 


Rosie Sharman-Ward 


All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.


My ticket for this performance of Life of Pi was gifted by the Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to watch the show in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given.



FULL CAST LIST:

Divesh Subaskaran as Pi; Adwitha Arumugam as Pi Alternate (who played the role at this performance); Anthony Antunes as Tiger Hind / Cook / Father Martin; Bhawna Bhawsar as Lulu Chen / Mrs Biology Kumar; Ralph Birtwell as Father; Sebastian Goffin as Tiger Head; Akash Heer as Tiger Head; Romina Hytten as Tiger Heart / Hind; Katie Kennedy-Rose as Tiger Heart / Hind; Chad Martinez as Mamaji / Pandit-Ji / Admiral Balbir Singh; Keshini Misha as Rani; Goldy Notay as Amma; Sharita Oomeer as Lulu Chen / Mrs Biology Kumar; Kate Roswell as Tiger Heart / Hind; Tom Stacy as Tiger Hind / Russian Sailor; Lilian Tsang as Mrs Okamoto / Mrs Khan / Ship's Captain; Peter Twose as Tiger Head / Cook / Father Martin; Vinesh Veerasami as Russian Sailor


RUNNING TIME (approx):

2 hours 10 minutes, including interval


CONTENT WARNINGS:

Depictions of death, murder and animal cruelty; Smoke, haze, flashing lights and loud sounds throughout






The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the largest and most attended regional producing theatre in the country. Their mission is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue offers three performance spaces of various sizes, the largest being The Lyric which accommodates the big touring productions. The Drum and The Lab are smaller, intimate spaces and often offer pioneering productions.


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