Review: Life Of Pi at Newcastle Theatre Royal
Life of Pi – Newcastle Theatre Royal
24th January 2024
I have seen this production once before at a streamed version of the West End show at the cinema and I was blown away then with the quality – live, it is something else again. Life of Pi tells the story of (Pi)scine Patel (Divesh Subaskaran) who is forced from his idyllic home in rural India with his family to seek happier and more profitable times in Canada. The family’s ship goes down in a storm and Pi is left to fend for himself in a lifeboat for countless days before he hits landmass in the Philippines.
We join Pi’s story at the end when Mrs Okatomo (Lilian Tsang) is questioning him about the fate of the ship on which he was travelling. We then travel back to Pondicherry in India as Pi tells his story from a beautiful home life in a zoo, to escaping tumultuous political upheaval in the late 1970’s to this families escape aboard the Tsimstum and its subsequent sinking.
The stars of this show aside from the main protagonist, who I will return to in a short while, have to be the creatives who took a book with a multitude of challenging narratives and over come those challenges with amazing and jaw-dropping solutions, and the veritable army of puppeteers who bring this show vividly to life. The ensemble in this production work incredibly hard to bring all of the human and animal characters to the stage and do so with dexterity and a great deal of skill.
Much praise has to do to director, Max Webster, set and costume designer, Tim Hatley, puppet and movement director, Finn Caldwell accompanied by designer Nick Barnes and especially video designer, Andrzej Goulding and lighting design by Tim Lutkin and Tim Deiling. Speaking of the design of the show, this is one production where height offers you an improved experience on the performance. I would suggest that the Grand Circle will offer the best views in the house.
And so to the performances. There are some wonderful individual performances in this cast but the team work and camaraderie required to pull off such a professional and slick production really shines from the stage.
I have already praised the production team, creatives and puppeteers. SO all of my plaudits remaining are for Divesh Subaskaran whose innocent, windswept, knowledgeable and thoughtful character really endears him to the audience. There is a particularly lovely moment at the beginning of the play when he is offered one of his favourite sweets. There is a subtle yet determined elegance about the humour he injects into his character which is down to his interpretation, to the direction and from the exquisite playwriting from Lolita Chakrabati from the original book by Yann Martel.
On reading the programme I could not have been more flabbergasted to learn that this production is Subaskaran’s professional debut since completing his training. Expect to see this young man on stages for a long time to come. The fact that I got to meet him after the performance and he was just as much of a delight in person as in character made it all the more special for me.
Aside from the ship wreck and the animals, Life of Pi has a deeper element to it which delves into the heart of faith and belief, challenging that which is and which is not, hope and survival in the face of almost certain death. The spiritual aspects of this production are there but they are not laboured which is again testament to the writing.
Very few times have I enjoyed a play quite as much as I have this evening and never before in the company of an adult male royal Bengal tiger. Bravo indeed!
Life of Pi plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tue 23 Jan – Sat 27 Jan 2024. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.