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Life of Pi - charmingly curious production leaves you craving answers


There are questions in life that you don't think about often, but when you do, you crave an answer.

Photo by Johan Persson

Do bananas sink or float? What happens after you die; is there an afterlife, heaven, or reincarnation? And how far would you go to ensure that you don’t reach that stage just yet. Life of Pi asks the questions that we all battle with, regardless of the language we speak, the morals we value, and the beliefs we hold.

Under Max Websters direction, Life of Pi (adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti from Yann Martel's acclaimed novel), we jump feet-first into the Patel’s desolate family zoo during political unrest in 1970s Pondicherry, India. The fretful mother (Goldy Notay), enterprising father (Ralph Birtwell), smart daughter (Keshini Misha), and energetic son (Divesh Subaskaran) share a special bond - light and familiar - between themselves and with their animals.

And there’s a lot of animals. Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell have designed an ark full - from delicate butterflies, to a protective orangutang family and a friendly giraffe - all wonderfully charismatic in style and focused flair. They’re brought to life by an expert team of puppeteers (under Caldwell's considered movement direction) who encompass every being of their creature, we feel every intake of breath, hear every snarl, and notice every tail wag.

Thrust into the bustling street markets of India where locals rub shoulders and the only three buildings are the church, temple and mosque represented by their respective faith leaders, there's something idealistic about this life. Vivid pinks and oranges dance around the design, complimented by matching saris and turbans and jangling gold bangles (Tim Hatley's set and costuming is really quite simply beautiful) before crashing into the brutal industrialism of a dark cargo ship as the family take the plunge and set out to relocate to Canada.

Pi finds himself the sole survivor of a tragic shipwreck, sharing a lifeboat with his nemesis, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Large paneled walls become a canvas for the polite and philosophical Pi as he recalls his ordeal from a dreary Mexican hospital to an impatient Japanese Ministry of Transport representative (Lilian Tsang) who is desperately trying to trace back the cause of the wreckage. In rippling flashbacks, storms flood the stage and rock the large vessel tipping the young boy in to the open ocean where he spends 227 days under starry skies and dreamy sunsets as he slowly tames the ferocious feline.

Epic video and lighting design (expertly crafted by Andrzej Goulding, Tim Lutkin and Tim Deiling) work in tandem, exaggerated with Carolyn Downing's detailed sound design that flourishes every splash, hum and growl. The result is quite the spectacle.

Subaskaran is a comedic narrator, he's thoughtful and curious in his wide-eyed delivery and nimble athleticism. His counterpart is operated by the seven puppeteers actors that roar together to create the ferocious feline, all hard edges and sharp temper.

Across the ordeal, they are visited by mirages of lost relatives and well-wishers, who attempt to guide Pi. The script is a little obvious, the sister declares that she no longer wants to meet a God, and we hark back to early swimming lessons - it’s all a bit too heavy on the rhetorics - but it’s well intended and in places sweet, despite never really making a solid point or forging well-meaning connections. The actors do what they can with it, giving face to the emotions even if they don't say it.

Poignancy instead comes in crucial details like the underbelly of a beautiful turtle revealing red bloody ribbons and a cracked carcass, and Pi’s refuge on a small lifebuoy pulled by ropes - stark images that mirror today's headlines.

It’ll leave you with more questions than answers - the sucker punch twist will see to that - but it’ll confirm, we’re all looking for the same ones. And we might as well do it whilst looking at something heartbreakingly beautiful on stage.


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