Theatre Review: Life of Pi

Seated in a packed crowd at Theatre Royal, Nottingham, I sensed a tangible feeling of excitement and anticipation radiating from the viewers, preparing myself for a captivating experience from this theatrical adaptation of Yan Martel’s renowned novel.

At the core of ‘Life of Pi’ lies the extraordinary tale of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a young Indian boy (portrayed on stage by Adwitha Arumugam) from Pondicherry, India, delving into themes of spirituality and metaphysics from a tender age. Following a shipwreck, he endures 227 days adrift on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger, prompting contemplation on the essence of reality and its subjective perception and narration.

The stage visuals were exquisite. Commencing in India at Pi’s father’s Zoo, the audience was treated to remarkable puppetry showcasing giraffes, horses, zebras, an orangutan with her offspring, hyenas, butterflies, and the humorously named royal Bengal tiger, Richard Parker (due to a clerical error). Each enchanting animal puppet was manipulated by single or multiple actors who also mimicked the creatures’ sounds: tiger roars, hyena laughs, horse neighs, and more. Clad in understated, neutral hues, the puppeteers nearly vanished from sight, allowing the puppets to emerge as living beings themselves through the power of imagination.

The set effortlessly transitioned from the Zoo to the hospital in a future scene where an older Pi recounted her fantastical narrative to a representative of the ship company seeking to comprehend the incident leading to its sinking, and back again as Pi’s storytelling transported the audience back in time to the unfolding events. Throughout most of the play, the backdrop depicted the vast sea where Pi and her companions grappled with the challenges of survival on a lifeboat in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean with scarce provisions. The visual effects during this segment were truly breathtaking, illuminated by neon and black lights that created a sparkling, celestial ambiance, particularly striking at night when the stars gleamed.

Every actor captivated the audience, delivering a spellbinding performance in bringing this acclaimed novel to life on stage. In conclusion, it was a genuinely enchanting production deserving the accolades it has received. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness it if you can!

Review by James Toomey

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