Oh, Southbank Centre, how you continue to feature a maddening concoction of cool-things-that-I-maybe-shouldn’t-like-but-I-do.
When confronted with the prospect of a hip-hop dance production of The Jungle Book, set in the gritty urban jungle of London with a few circus bits thrown in, most would shy away, myself included. It’s too cliché, too This is England, too Danny Boyle opening ceremony to attempt to portray the realities of ‘the streets’ in a 1 hour long vegan quinoa arancini mouthful. I must admit, when I read the press release for Metta Theatre’s long-running production, I did find myself rolling my eyes thinking, “why is the Southbank Centre always trying to ally with the graffiti skatepark nearby, trying to act cutting-edge, when the process of going to the theatre is such a middle class exercise? What authority do they have on ‘the streets’? What authority do I have on the streets? Should I be reviewing this?”
Enter The Jungle Book, a perfectly objective vehicle with which to make a very middle class point on class: when you have power, please use it to help others that don’t.
I’m going to negate any prior notions by saying that Metta Theatre’s production was sophisticated, energetic and at some points, beautiful. The cast’s specific dance/circus abilities were fantastically choreographed with the characters they portrayed. Dean Stewart’s Shere Khan was huge and menacing, his harsh, angular popping mixed with aggressive rap making for a truly intimidating character. The analogy of him as a gang leader was also a great play on his seeming ubiquitousness in the original. Nathalie Alison’s pole dancing Kaa was an absolute highlight and an inspired choice for a svelte, climbing snake, and Natalie Nicole James’ Mowgli demonstrated a comfortably tumbling, energetic young man-cub with her trapeze skills.
After a difficult start where Baloo confusingly introduced the different characters of the jungle, which was with hindsight, completely unnecessary, things later improved. There were moments of fantastic choreography portraying city life, rather than animals, with enthralling realism. When Mowgli is taken back to ‘the suits’ of the city, robotic, cold characters in grey oversized suits dance around her indifferently, and she feels uncomfortable around them. Towards the end of the show, when Shere Khan has his comeuppance, he is searched for on the estate by the cast in bullet proof vests with torches to simulate police raids. Such simple props can create a brilliantly intense picture.
The moment of beauty, however, where I really felt the medium of dance and circus gymnastics came into its own, was the dance shared between Mowgli and Vulture on the trapeze when she finds herself alone on the streets. I’ve never seen such a simple, and literal, representation of helping a friend in need than ‘catching them’ on a trapeze. The way that Natalie and Nathalie moved together between the hoop, catching one another and lifting each other back up and down, was a gorgeous representation of friendship.
Metta Theatre’s dance production of The Jungle Book was an impressively classy modern interpretation of Kipling’s classic, and I would highly recommend to anyone with a thirst for unusual and thought-provoking entertainment.