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Life of Pi at Mayflower Theatre - Review

If you are looking for a ravishingly beautiful show, Life of Pi is it.

I came to Life of Pi having neither read Yann Martel's award-winning novel nor seen And Lee's award-winning film, which served me well as it meant I was genuinely surprised when one of the most devastating twists I have ever seen occurred in the second half.  Even before that moment, Max Webster's company did an excellent job at creating a visual spectacle that kept the audience enthralled despite much of what was happening being our heroine trapped on a boat with a tiger.

Adwitha Arumugam, on stage as Pi Alternate did a mesmerizingly authentic job as a happy-go-lucky and later deeply traumatised teen. On stage, it can be easy for actors to fall into the trap of losing the authenticity of their character because so much focus is going into projecting their voice and delivering stage directions designed to be seen from the back. Arumugam was incredibly watchable precisely because of her lack of overacting, giving a performance in which every line felt like it could have been spoken by a 17 year old, not an actress trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

The set and lighting design of this production may well be the most accomplished I’ve seen on the Mayflower stage. The set transformed seamlessly with the help of the graceful ensemble, with several fold-out changes being almost gasp-worthily beautiful, particularly the moment when the cold lime-washed walls that had previously formed a Mexican hospital were opened up to become the rich botanical gardens of an Indian zoo.

Going in to Life of Pi, the one thing I was sure of was that the puppets would be good: the puppets were extraordinary. The artistry of the teams who operated the animals was incredible to watch, managing to bring the puppets to life to the degree that at one stage we could see each inhale and exhale of Richard Parker’s labored breath. The noises the operators made were also fantastically lifelike.

It was the lighting design from Tim Lutkin and Tim Deiling, though, that most won me over in this production. The vivid combinations of lights managed to get across a sense of heat, smell, and air quality in a way I’ve not seen before on any stage. The use of quirky on-stage lighting, and a beautiful moment where the lights projected out into the auditorium elevated this production and added to its charm.

Verity Babbs is the host of Voice FM's 'Arts & Culture Show' on Wednesdays at 2PM

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