Loving Richard Parker

Imagine a fictional story that invokes Aesop’s Fables, Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book and War Horse. Yann Martel’s multi prize-winner, Life of Pi (Wyndham’s Theatre), is a philosophical tale which was adapted into a memorable film experience by Ang Lee in 2012. This stage version, written by Lolita Chakrabarti, is a dichotomy of the prosaic and the fantastical. Pi (real name Piscine Patel) grows up in a zoo in Pondicherry, India, a young man with an interest in metaphysics and spirituality, influenced no doubt by growing up with animals. Political violence drives his family out of their home and he finds himself on board a cargo ship which sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He is stranded on a lifeboat with four animals – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger. Only Pi and the tiger, called Richard Parker, survive the 227 day ordeal.
It starts in a drab hospital in Mexico with Pi being questioned by bemused officials from the Canadian Embassy and the Japanese Ministry of Transport in search of the “truth”. As Pi begins to narrate his upbringing and epic voyage the drab transforms into dazzling, creating a show that is a visual spectacle of incredible effects and phenomenal puppetry. The first half of the show is all about context and setting the scene for the amazing adventure that is to follow and as a result feels leaden footed in comparison. Nevertheless, the contrast makes our appreciation of the transformation that much greater with Richard Parker’s entrance being a jaw-dropping movement. His every move and sound that of a majestic feline.
The puppets are so life-like and designers Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell have excelled in also giving us a gorgeous giraffe, dancing butterflies, a feral hyena, Orange Juice the Orangutan, Black and White the Zebra and Buckingham the Goat who ends up being fed to the tiger in a scene that breaks Pi’s heart as he cannot bear seeing harm done to any animal. A harsh reality that becomes ever more vivid at sea when the hyena kills the zebra and orangutan and the hyena is then slain by Richard Parker.
Hiram Abeysekera’s Pi is Mowgli like in movement, leaping around the boat with ape like alacrity. His inquisitive mind that of a budding philosopher and witticisms way beyond his years combined with heaps of personality making him a very loveable soul. His initial love-hate relationship with the tiger evolves (needs must) into a mutual respect and understanding which is personified by his hallucination of the beast talking to him, a scene that encapsulates what can happen to the brain when deprived of food and water.
The scenes at sea are a thing of wonder with video projections by Andrzej Goulding, lighting by Tim Lutkin and sound by Carolyn Downing bringing the stormy Pacific to life on the Wyndham stage. The end picture of Pi and Richard Parker sat together under a star-spangled sky is beautiful and poignant. By which point Pi has confessed “I love you Richard Parker”. So say all of us.
And Gracia Erinoglu finds her way through the maize…
Emlyn Williams’s semi-autobiographical 1938 play The Corn is Green (National Theatre) is complex but ultimately satisfying. Wealthy suffragette Miss Lily Moffat (Nicola Walker) arrives in rural North Wales, determined to help young local miners out of poverty by teaching them to read and write. Lily soon spots talent in the unruly Morgan Evans (Iwan Daview). The community are not amused. She has a fight on her hands. There is a lot going on with sub plots aplenty. Fortunately we have an on stage narrator, Emlyn Williams (Gareth-David Lloyd) who keeps us in the picture.
In essence this is a social commentary on many things that afflicted society at that time. Moffat’s privilege is juxtaposed with the toil and hardship of a conflicted mining community. Dominic Cooke’s production is brought to a crescendo of emotion as the various protagonists get their comeuppance. The Welsh wit and caustic sarcasm is a delight, especially when putting Miss Moffat in her place. She carries on doggedly determined to get Evans to Oxford. He suffers imposter syndrome, now rejected by his own and not accepted by the elite.
An excellent production which also includes a Welsh male voice choir providing heavenly sounds.

Life of Pi – www.lifeofpionstage.com
The Corn is Green – www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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