I travelled over a stretch of gunmetal-grey, unfriendly looking sea in the pouring rain to end up in the steamy heat of the Indian Jungle. And was the journey worth it. Yes it was, very much worth the experience.
As I enter the auditorium of the Trinity Theatre in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, I'm struck by the set - beautifully built and painted, and laid out in three sections - very different to many pantomimes where sets change with every scene. Upstage is the Bandar-Log Temple, complete with overgrown walls and broken columns. Stage right the Indian village with three huts in a clearing (amusingly named Jungle Telegraph, Jabba and Vinda Loo). Stage left the rocky outcrop where the wolf-pack live. The whole set is well built, painted and lit (temple and rocky outcrop are very realistic), taking us into the heart of the Indian jungle.
Listed as a pantomime, the show is loosely based on what I know as panto tradition. It has a dame, a comic, a villain, comic duo, and, to an extent, a principle boy, but none of the other usual pantomime acts - however it works, and it works well.
The show starts with a bang, as Mowgli is discovered by the wolf-pack. The Wolf Cubs, along with the Mother and Father Wolves give us the opening number and we're off. The whole cast are very good, although one or two of them have a job to be heard properly at times (no names – no pack drill).
Young Mowgli is played in the opening scene by Jimmy Andrews very well, as he is discovered by the pack - then as a toddler, the orphan is portrayed admirably by Ava Andrews who boasts a great voice, acting ability and movement that would put many of her contemporaries to shame. I personally think a slightly bigger age gap between the two might work better (along with two children of the same gender perhaps), however, they both portray the role well.
Mowgli’s birth mother Jane is the dame, ably played by Steve Taverner who takes on the part magnificently and could go very far with similar roles in the future. It's actually a shame she doesn’t appear more often throughout the production. The real winner of the children’s (and parents') hearts is, not surprisingly, Baloo, fantastically performed by Duncan Greaves. With his heart and soul in the role and loved every time he appears he has the audience eating out of his hand.
Sheer Khan the evil tiger is also brilliantly portrayed, by Pete Haris. With the exception of a tail, there is no 'tiger' reference to his costume, but with acting alone, you can see who he is straight away. Blue Peacock the jungle Fairy isn’t from Kippling's Jungle Book but is a welcome character in this show - well played by Kirstine Davies, who drives much of the plot with her narational lines. Monkeys, Chitter and Chatter, are the comic duo, taken on by Lewis Gadsby and Jack Williams. They're extremely good, and could easily play an essential part of many future pantomimes. Their 'aping' around is busy and pacey at all times, so much so, that I was exhausted from watching them.
The only minor criticism worth a mention is that one cast member insists on calling Mowgli 'Mooogly', which does begin to grates after a while. But as mentioned at the start, the set design, construction and painting (Mike Buckett and crew) is fantastic. It gives you that feeling of being deep in the Indian jungle and part of the story.
The music is extremely good and skilfully fits into the show, with MD Luke Mulhern on keyboards and Ed Jagger on drums.
Lighting and sound is excellent and provides plenty of atmospheric surroundings, thanks to Peter Ferguson and Steve Kimpton.
Properties (Cheryl Barrett and Peter May) are perfect for the panto and very well made, and costumes (Liz Santer and Pater Blackburn) are also spot on – very colourful and suiting individual characters brilliantly.
The whole show is very well directed by Cheryl May, who also wrote the script (under her pen name of Cheryl Barrett). The concept and script are cleverly thought through with some lovely humour and the odd touch of pathos. Everything gells really well and leaps off the page with great enthusiasm. In addition, Pat Suttmann's clever choreography means the dances match the theme and locations throughout.
Although billed as a pantomime, for me it's more likened to a feel-good Christmas show containing more than a hint of panto business and humour. Great fun to watch, and what’s more, it works well, with the audience leaving more than happy. I'm already looking forward to my next trip across the high seas to Trinity Theatre.