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Life of Pi is on stage at Southampton Mayflower Theatre this week





MASTERFUL puppetry and dazzling stage transformations set the scene for the harrowingly beautiful theatrical reimagining of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel Life of Pi.

Adapted for the stage by Lolita Chakrabarti, and directed Max Webster, the show’s rapid scene transformations and cleverly adaptable props demonstrated the highest levels of technical mastery as the story on a young boy, lost as sea was played out at Southampton Mayflower Theatre.

LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson
LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson

The central character Pi Patel (played on press night by alternative Pi, Adwitha Arumugam, who performed as a female in the role) is deeply traumatised after experiencing a shipwreck that claimed the lives of her entire family. Beginning her story in the sterile surroundings of a hospital room, Pi’s imagination quickly conjures up memories the vibrant and bustling India zoo which her family ran before their ill-fated nautical voyage.

LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson
LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson

Home to a ferocious hyena, an Orangutan mother and her infant; a stripy zebra and a terrifyingly fierce Bengal tiger, the zoo is a no longer a safe haven for the family as growing political unrest threatens to transform their idyllic lives.

The set is quickly and cleverly adapted as props seamlessly transform enabling the imagined zoo to become a vibrant Indian street square and the imposing steel cargo carrier.

Use of lighting is also superb in helping to contrast between the Pi’s sterile hospital room and her memories of the colourful Indian town where she grew up, the deep foreboding ocean and the cannibalistic island.

Night time scenes aboard the life raft are also brilliantly illuminated with a backdrop of dazzling stars, while projections help update the audience on Pi’s duration at other important observations.

But for all the spectacular scenery and special effects, it is the absolutely mesmerising puppetry that elevates the show to become something truly magical. The huge life-sized puppets are manipulated by a team of actors that are so convincing they truly seem to become the animals they represent, from the swinging Orangutan to the hunched and menacing hyena and of course the enormous Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker, who prowls around the lifeboat menacingly before eventually finding a truce with Pi.

LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson
LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson

Having previous read the book, it seemed to me that other characters in the story had less developed roles, particularly Pi’s family who appeared quite fleetingly in the early scenes, giving their demise with the sinking cargo ship less impact. The role of characters aboard the ship including the French cook and Russian sailor also remained a bit of a mystery until the final moments of Pi’s story.

LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson
LIFE OF PI Credit: Johan Persson

But themes of death, survival and faith were thoughtfully examined in the beautiful story leaving plenty for the audience to ponder after the show. Life of Pi is a dazzling and memorable piece of theatre, catch it if you can at Southampton Mayflower Theatre until Saturday 18th May. Tickets are from £19.50 to book visit https://www.mayflower.org.uk



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