Crucible's tiger drama burns bright

LIFE OF PI

Tuesday, 9th July 2019, 12:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 4:36 pm
Hiran Abeysekera as Pi in Life of Pi at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Life of Pi, Crucible SheffieldThe international best-seller and Booker prize-winning 2001 book by Yann Martel seems to be one that people either love or hate but even the naysayers would surely acknowledge that this first stage adaptation has much to recommend.It is theatrically inventive as it needs to be to bring to life the story of a shipwrecked 17-year-old Indian boy who endures 227 days on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.It is visually stunning with designer Tim Hatley’s set effortlessly melding from hospital bed to Indian village a hospital bed melding into a lifeboat which rises rom the stage and Tim Lutkin’s lighting to fill the Crucible stage with waves.Then there are the puppets ranging from the fearsome tiger whose movement is so realistically evoked by three operators (Owain Gwynn, Kate Colbrook and Fred Davis) to a modest turtle on a string. But it’s not all special effects in Max Webster’s gripping production. Lolita Chakrabarti’s witty script brings out Martel’s themes of faith, courage and the nature of storytelling. The versatile ensemble play multiple roles and also lend a hand to work the puppets. But above all there is an awesome central performance by Hiran Abeysekera as the boyish but wise beyond his years Pi, a demanding role both verbally and physically in that he is on stage all the time (apart from one quite breathtaking moment when he disappears underwater).It is a piece that is ideal family viewing, except that younger children may find some scenes of animal disemberment disturbing.Ian Soutar