After experiencing discrimination in their native India in the 1970s, a Hindu couple decides to migrate to Canada with their teenage children, and with the zoo they run. The massive containership transporting them does not only refuse vegetarian food but seems to be run by a dodgy, vicious crew as well: A fatal storm leads to their son Pi being lost at sea for almost a year before he finally hits Central American shores. From a Mexican hospital bed he tells his wonderous story of being shipwrecked with a tiger and other creatures to his nurse and a Japanese insurance representative…
I read Yann Martel’s 2001 novel about the wonder of multifaith and the beauty of an unlikely coexistence when it matters after Ang Lee’s film came out in 2012, and have since then never been able to decide which is better; both works are powerful and complement each other independently. Lolita Chakrabarti’s play does not aim to compete with either: The stage version is a firework for the senses, never overloading but dreamy and enchanting while being at the same time a sober fable of survival and beliefs, of faith, love and hope – never becoming a kitschy fairy tale.
My seat just at the very left of the front row is just next to the ramp on which phenomenal creatures enter and leave the stage, operated by several masters of puppetry: I swim with turtles and fish, fly with butterflies and birds, am dangerously close to tigers and hyenas, wildlife fauna and zoo animals alike. Under my mask I gasp for air in astonishment.
Being that low under stage might have led to me having missed out on the projection art on the circular, rotating stage floor but I already decided that this will not be my only visit to this classic venue and the Life Of Pi.
A week after my visit I am testing positive for Covid-19 and stay the most of the next four weeks indoors with a follow-on tonsillitis. I have worn my mask all the time during my visit, and so has the heart-warming and very welcoming staff at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre. In the easily sold-out audience next, behind and above me I counted only ten masks though, despite the announcement that visitors are to wear one unless they are exempt. By the time this review has been published, Life Of Pi has won the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Play. But please, guys, we just watched a whole evening dedicated to survival strategies (mentally and physically), on how to protect yourself from toxic sunshine, deadly nature and rationing the little nutrition available. That with responsibilities comes the occasional feeling of helplessness. And if its only in respect of the narrating, please wear a mask.
***** out of 5 stars
Adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti, based on the novel by Yann Martel. Puppet Designers: Nick Barnes and Puppet & Movement Director Finn Caldwell.
I paid £35 for seat 22 in Row A a month ahead of my visit during a TodayTix sale. Final performance on 15 January 2023.