Life of Pi
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: Wyndham's Theatre, London 
Cast: Chirag Benedict Lobo, Saikat Ahmed, Tom Espiner, Phyllis Ho, Kazeem Tosin Amore, Tanvi Virmani, Kevin Shen, Davina Moon, Mohit Mathur and Sakuntala Ramanee

After a cargo ship sinks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, a sixteen year-old boy named Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with four other survivors - a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, who will survive?

Winner of 5 Olivier Awards, including 'Best New Play', Life of Pi is based on one of the most extraordinary and best-loved works of fiction.

I think I'm one of the very few people who hasn't seen, read or heard any variation of the worldwide smash-hit Life of Pi. The bestselling book, written by Yann Martel was released back in 2001, with the critically acclaimed film released 11 years after. The show debuted in Sheffield in 2019 and was eventually brought to the West End late 2021.

As I had very little knowledge of the story, I went in almost blind to what was to come. I think this made the piece even more breath-taking than I could have imagined.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, it follows 17 year old Piscine Patel who finds himself in hospital after 227 days at sea. As Pi relays his story to an official from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, the stage is transformed. Pi tells us how himself and his family were driven out of their home in India due to a state of emergency. Pi, his family and their beloved zoo animals make the journey to Canada on a cargo ship. But tragedy ensues and Pi finds himself lost at sea in a lifeboat, with just Richard Parker as company. Richard Parker being a Bengal tiger, naturally.

The puppetry in this production is unlike anything I've ever seen. With shows like The Lion King and Warhorse showcasing how incredible puppetry can be, Life of Pi elevates puppetry to the next level. The movements, expressions and sounds are so lifelike, that after a while, your mind forgets that humans are even on stage controlling them. From the maniacal hyena, to the maternal orangutan, each animal's personality is portrayed so brilliantly.

It goes without saying that Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger, is the star of the show. The sheer size and power he holds on stage is simply phenomenal. He captivates the audience and has them in the palm of his hand from his very first appearance. From the tiny butterflies, to the towering giraffes, you'll be mesmerised at how they bring the zoo to life before your very eyes.

Another aspect that needs commenting on is the sets. The stage is relatively small and feels very bare when you first walk in. However, with ease, it's transformed into a chaotic Indian market, a bleak grey hospital, a cargo ship being battered by a storm, and a small boat inhabited by a boy and a Bengal tiger. The sets are so astounding and all-encompassing, that I found myself quite emotional at times throughout the show.

Last night, I was lucky enough to see alternate Pi, who is played by Chirag Benedict Lobo. He captures the essence of Pi entirely. The performance he gave last night was stellar. The trauma, the innocence, the quick-wittedness, the enthusiasm when talking of things he loves; Chirag has mastered it all. The entire cast were fantastic, but I particularly loved the dynamic between Lulu Chen and Mr Okamoto, played by Phyllis Ho and Kevin Shen.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the show, but it's a visual masterpiece. A heart-warming piece that explores the way we deal with trauma and suffering, beautifully told through the eyes of a 17 year old; with the growing bond between a boy and a tiger at the very heart of it. A truly stunning show that I hope to revisit before it leaves the West End next year.

You can book tickets to see Life of Pi at the Wyndham's Theatre, London until January 2023, here.

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