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Posts Tagged ‘Yann Martel’

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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