Latest Review – Life of Pi [The Lowry, Salford Quays]


The Lowry, Salford Quays

Until Sunday 7th January 2024

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A theatrical sensation on both sides of the pond, the multi-award-winning stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s multi-million-copy bestselling philosophical novel now arrives in Salford for an extended Christmas season as part of its major first UK and Ireland tour.

Life of Pi tells the story of Piscine “Pi” Patel (played at last night’s press performance by an exceptional Tanvi Virmani), who grows up in Pondicherry, India as the youngest child of zoo manager parents. Following a state of emergency in the country, the family decide to sell up and set sail for Canada on board a shipping boat transporting their animals to North America. After an epic storm in the Pacific Ocean, the ship sinks and Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat with just four other survivors – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and Richard Parker, the zoo’s deadly Royal Bengal tiger.

A rich tale of spirituality and philosophy, Life of Pi is a story of survival, endurance and, ultimately, faith, raising questions about the nature of reality and how our stories are perceived.

LIFE OF PI, 2023, UK Tour © Johan Persson

The book unfolds in three parts and concludes with an inquiry into the shipwreck as Pi recovers in a hospital in Mexico after two hundred and twenty-seven days at sea. In this version, the piece is bookended and interspersed with that investigation as the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. The fantastical tale Pi narrates is rejected by the officials as being unbelievable, so Pi then presents another, darker version of the tale and asks them to pick whichever they feel is the better story.

Life of Pi was once called “unfilmable” and, subsequently, “unstageable”, but Max Webster’s production makes short work of any prior concerns. With so many animals involved in the story there’s a question of how exactly do you stage such a production? Well, with puppets, of course, and not since War Horse have we seen puppets used to such extraordinary effect.

Brought to life by a team of seven puppeteers, the movement of the puppets is consistently mesmerising as the animals move about the stage with such natural elegance and grace. So expressive, so accurate, so precise; every finite detail of each animal’s movement and characteristics is captured and executed to perfection. Puppet and puppeteer becomes one in a superb and seamless display of artistry.

Unsurprisingly, the puppeteers for the Original London production collectively won the Oliver Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for their work, including Romina Hytten, who returns to the production for this UK tour as Tiger Heart – Hind and Puppet Captain.

LIFE OF PI, 2023, UK Tour © Johan Persson

The film adaptation took a very much visuals first approach and overlooked some of the deeper themes of the book. Here, those themes are explored with great depth and poignancy courtesy of Lolita Chakrabarti’s stirring and largely more faithful adaptation. Pi’s faith in God is explored through a fascination with a number of different religions and their relationship with their family is fleshed out significantly throughout.

Some of the more fantastical elements are also given a much darker twist which grounds things back in reality and has us questioning the true retelling of the story. There’s a pervading darkness and a real sense of danger in Chakrabarti’s adaptation that is largely missing from the film.

As Pi notes, neither story can be proven and neither explains the cause of the events that have taken place, so it is ultimately down to us to decide which we prefer to believe in. Life is a story and we are all free to choose how that story is written.

LIFE OF PI, 2023, UK Tour © Johan Persson

From a creative standpoint, the production is an absolute masterpiece. From the hustle and bustle of Pondicherry to the driving rain of the storm, the underwater ripples against the backdrop and the dreamlike sequences at sea, every individual design element is beautifully rendered. The staging is slick, fluid and seamless, and the story is conveyed beautifully by an experienced company.

Bursting with dazzling visuals and imagination, Life of Pi delivers a feast of breathtaking creativity and theatrical invention in what proves a truly unmissable production.

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at The Lowry, Salford Quays: Sunday 7th January 2024

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.

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