It’s always good to see a young cast performing at Edinburgh, as with Aquila’s production of The Jungle Book. Prep school pupils from Berkshire and Scotland, the cast inhabited an urban jungle although still playing animals rather than their human equivalent, with the appropriate creature helpfully portrayed on each T-shirt.
Performances were generally impressive, given the age-range, and it was especially good to see the concentration on stage. What a shame that the discipline shown by these young performers was not shared by some of the audience, who chose to distract others by filming the performance – in one case, continually bobbing up and down with his phone like a fond parent at a nativity play.
In another manifestation of this year’s trend, there was no programme or cast-list, so I have no idea who directed the play or the names of any of the cast. There was clearly someone involved who knows how to get young people to speak well on stage however, and the large cast were deployed to good effect with mostly effective music underpinning the action – although some dance sections would have been a good addition for the ensemble.
Acting honours are due to several of the principals. The sinous Kaa managed the difficult task of portraying the complex morality of the character and banishing all memory of the Disney version. The same was true of the gravity of Bagheera and the maturity of Baloo, both intelligent performances. The boy playing Mowgli clearly understood and could portray the growing tension between his animal and human families. The smaller part of the Hunter was also played with an intelligent subtlety.
This was the only performance of The Jungle Book I have seen where the Jackal came close to stealing the show – he is a skilled actor with real physical presence and it would be good to have seen more than one instance of his acrobatic talent. He was well-matched in the portrayal of evil however by a Shere Khan who combined authority with danger – and spoke well for the company when thanking the audience at the end.
To the young people involved: well done, and I hope you return to Edinburgh. Just make sure next time that your accompanying adults sit still and don’t cause such a distraction…