Life of Pi - for cat lovers everywhere!

“. . . and a Bengal tiger who ate the hyena but not you? “

Mr Okamoto

Hiram Abeysekera as Pi and Tom Larkin as Tiger Head (Photo: Johan Persson)

It was the book that couldn’t be filmed, and after it was filmed, it was the film that couldn’t be staged and now it is showing at Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End with exemplary staging.

I am publishing this review with more pictures than I have ever used because the impact of Life of Pi  is about the feelings and the visuals of the magnificent animals created by Finn Caldwell and his team of puppeteers.  I just couldn’t bear to call the War Horse horses, puppets, because they are altogether more impressive and equine than anything I’ve ever seen on stage and similarly I was blown away here by Richard Parker the tiger, the zebras and terrified by the hyena.

The play opens in a hospital ward in Mexico with a representative from the Canadian government Lulu Chen (Kirsten Foster) and a Japanese insurance loss adjuster Mr Okamoto (David KS Tse) who is investigating the cause of the sinking of the SS Tsimtsum in the Pacific Ocean.  Under the bed is hiding Piscine Patel, known as Pi, the only survivor.  Pi has lost his family and is understandably traumatised. 

Hiran Abeysekera as Pi and Company (Photo: Johan Persson)

The family complete with their zoo were migrating to Canada and the animals were also on board the ship.  The story returns two years earlier to the zoo in Pondicherry India where butterflies flutter, giraffes stretch up high and Pi plays with a pet goat.  The monkeys are led by Orange Juice a mother orang utan; there are miniature mongooses and a nasty hyena. 

We meet Pi’s family and his father (Nicholas Khan) tries to teach him a lesson about wild animals by feeding the pet goat to the tiger in front of his son.  If you were thinking about taking small children to Life of Pi, stop here, because this is the first of several bloody scenes which might traumatise them, as they did me. 

Pi we learn has been involved in three religions, brought up as a Hindu, he attended a mosque and he has been to a local church for the Catholic mass.  This is interesting because of each religion’s approach to death and dying.  Pi is claimed by all three religions. 

Hiran Abeysekera as Pi and Company (Photo: Johan Persson)

In a vibrant scene of bustle and market place, the Patel family supervise the packing of the ship.  You can almost smell the saffron and the flowers on the garlands in this colourful scene.  Once at sea the world map is projected on the stage floor  and a miniature steamship is carried over the seas. There is a great storm, the video waves get rougher, there is heavy rain and lightning and thunder and the hyena and the orang utan escapes as does the zebra, Black and White is his name.  Meanwhile in the hospital, Pi is reliving the storm and his finding himself on a life raft.

The tiger is swimming in the sea and Pi is trying to fight him off with an oar.  Black and White is hurt and the hyena rips out the meat from the zebra’s leg while he is still alive.  Orange Juice too come to a sticky end at the jaws of the hyena.  I found it quite distressing to see these animals being eaten.

Hiran Abeysekera as Pi at sea (Photo: Johan Persson)

Pi is cross examined by Mr Okamoto as to how the tiger eats the hyena but not Pi himself.  Pi explains that bananas float and that he found cans of water and tins of food in the survival rations.  Pi learns to catch fish and slowly gains the tiger’s trust.  The sea parts and allows Pi to dive into it to catch fish.

The young star Hiran Abeysekera has a very good acting range and is almost never off stage in the two hours.  He has a kind of spirituality as he speaks honestly about Pi’s experiences.  Pi is only 17 years old. The Life of Pi  has a strong ensemble, some of whom were with the show when it was first performed in Sheffield in 2019. 

The relationship between man and Bengal tiger takes a different turn and the final scene will attempt an explanation.  Lolita Chakrabarti has adapted the novel for the stage.  The book has sold 15 million copies worldwide, the movie was a big success but nothing beats seeing the Life of Pi live on a stage. 

Hiran Abeysekera as Pi and Fred Davis as Tiger Head (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Production Notes

Life of Pi

Novelist  Yann Martel

Playwright: Lolita Chakrabarti

Directed by Max Webster

Cast

Starring:

Hiran Abeysekera

Kirsten Chen

David KS Tse

Nicholas Khan

Mina Anwar

Fred Davis

Daisy Franks

Romina Hytten

Tom Larkin

Scarlet Wilderink

 

 

 

Creatives

Director: Max Webster

Designer: Tim Hatley

Puppet and Movement Director: Finn  Caldwell

Lighting Designer: Tim Lutkin

Puppet Designers: Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell

Video Designer: Andrzej Goulding

Sound Designer: Carolyn Downing

Composer: Andrew T Mackay

Dramaturg:  Jack Bradley

Information

Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes

with an interval

Booking to 30th October 2022

Theatre: 

Wyndhams Theatre

Charing Cross Road

London WC2H 0DA

Telehone: 0844 482 5151

Tube: Leicester Square

Telephone: 0344 871 7628

Website: delfontmackintosh.co.uk

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge 

at Wyndham’s Theatre 

on 1st December 2021