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Posts Tagged ‘Finn Caldwell’

I’ve never read Yann Martel’s novel and I didn’t take to the film. After watching this stage adaptation by Lolita Chakrabarti, I’m beginning to wonder why. Whatever you make of the story, the telling of it, and the stagecraft with which it is presented are extraordinary. It’s great to see quality like this on a West End stage.

It starts in the Mexican hospital room where Pi was taken after his time lost at sea. From here, we flash back to his home in the zoo & botanical garden in Pondicherry, the market of that city where the family prepare for the voyage, the harbour and the ship as they load and set sail for Canada for a new life, with their animals, including a hyena, orangutang, zebra, and a Bengal tiger.

From here, Pi – the only survivor of the shipwreck – tells the Japanese accident investigator and Canadian consular official the story of his period of hundreds of days at sea in a lifeboat and on at attached makeshift raft. Reality and fantasy seem to blur, differentiating between truth and hallucination or dreams becomes difficult. All the time we move back and forth between telling his story in the hospital to his memories of this time at sea.

Much of it really is breathtaking, with eleven actors and six puppeteers swiftly moving us from place to place. Soon after it starts, we experience terrific transitions – from zoo to market to harbour to ship – and it continues at sea, on the lifeboat and raft. The entire cast excel, but the central performance by Hiran Abeysekera is simply astonishing, on stage throughout, continually moving from the present to the journey to the past. An award-winning performance if ever I saw one.

Director Max Webster has assembled a first class creative team, with Tim Hatley’s designs, Finn Caldwell & Nick Barnes puppetry, Andrezej Goulding’s video & Tim Lutkin’s lighting and the music & sound of Andrew T Mackay & Carolyn Downing fully integrated in the storytelling. Wyndhams is a fairly small theatre, and it seemed both intimate and epic.

Sheffield Theatres originated this show in 2019 and it’s taken a while to get here, with at least three scheduled openings, so it’s great to report a huge hit that might sit in the specially reconfigured theatre for some time. Don’t miss it.

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Victor Hugo was fond of outsiders, and the grinning man seems to be the hunchback’s lesser known brother. Written in 1869, it has subsequently been adapted as a film six times and for the stage four times, twice as a musical, like this new one from Bristol Old Vic. He may also be the inspiration for Batman’s nemesis The Joker. Here the tale gets a suitably Gothic telling in a brilliant production by Tom Morris.

Set in 17th century England, young Gwynplaine’s mouth has been mutilated and now has a rather spooky perpetual grin. He rescues an infant girl when her mother is frozen to death and they are taken in by carnival proprietor Ursus, where Gwynplaine uses his misfortune to make his living in freak shows. The infant is named Dea and she’s blind. When she’s in her teens, they fall in love, but Gwynpaine is lured away to the royal court where he is destined to marry into royalty, but instead he returns to the carnival, which proves tragic.

Jon Bausor’s transformation of the problematic Trafalgar Studio I is terrific and his Gothic design and Jean Chan’s costumes combine to make a great look. Finn Caldwell & Toby Olie’s puppetry is highly effective, particularly Ursus’ pet wolf, where an actor seems to be a part of the animal. Tim Phillips & Mark Teitler’s music has a darkness to it and is unlike any other musical theatre score I’ve heard since The Tiger Lillies’ Shockheaded Peter almost 20 years ago. It’s a big book and Carl Grouse has done a fine job creating a much shorter, clear narrative.

Louis Maskell is excellent as Gwynpaine, though we never see his real face, and I loved Sanne Den Besten’s fragile, blind Dea. Their exit at the end took my breathe away. Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro and Sean Kingsley as Ursus are both outstanding and Mark Anderson brings a lighter touch to Dirry-Moir, the royal suitor Gwynpaine deposes.

It’s another breath of fresh air for the West End and I do hope it finds its audience there; on the night I went, they loved it, as did I.

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