Review: The Jungle Book, Guildhall Theatre, Derby

Madcap mayhem is what Oddsocks promise and that’s exactly what you get from this passionately crazy production company and their version of The Jungle Book.

Rudyard Kipling’s tale of the man-cub Mowgli and his friends and foes is given the full Oddsocks treatment and although it is not officially a pantomime there are scores of corny gags, and opportunities for booing, hissing and even some ‘he’s behind you’ moments.

In fact knowing how to play the audience is their expertise and in an intimate venue like Derby’s Guildhall Theatre everyone is made to feel part of the show and everyone has fun.

That’s not to say this Jungle Book didn’t have a more sombre message hidden amongst the tomfoolery and Elli McKenzie’s poignant writing left us in no  doubt that although the world can be a violent and dangerous place, good can conquer evil and there is strength in community.

There are plenty of up-to-the-minute political references and I only have to tell you that the Jungle baddie – the power-crazed beastly, tiger Shere Khan – proclaimed he could “Make The Jungle Great Again” for you to know exactly what I mean.

The show is exceedingly physical and fast-paced and it is hard to believe there are just five people in the cast taking on 14 parts between them and providing the live music.

Director Andy Barrow, who also plays the two villains of the piece Shere Khan and Horis the orangutan, made sure the show was full of surprises – one being a wondrous waltzing elephant and the other a magnificent herd of stampeding buffalo. You will have to go and watch the show to find out how he achieved that!

Derby-born Jora Singh gave an energetic and engaging performance as Mowgli and made leaping around the stage from rock to rock look easy.

Barry Shannon, as the more slothful Baloo and aging wolf pack leader Akela, had bags of the necessary charisma and charmed the audience, while Miranda Heath, as the svelte black panther Bagheera and vegetarian Mother Wolf, oozed female superiority.

However it was the appearance of Jennifer Shakesby as the slinky python Kaa that stole the show. The costume was fantastic and the actor clearly revelled in the mesmeric role.

As always the creative genius which is Oddsocks has produced a great family show that not only entertains but also challenges our perceptions. Long may they carry on.

The Jungle Book can be seen at the Guildhall Theatre until February 4 at 7.30pm with a matinee on Saturday at 2pm. Go to http://www.derbylive.co.uk for tickets. The company tour continues until the end of February and will be at Mansfield’s Palace Theatre on February 24. Go to http://www.oddsocks.co.uk for details.

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