Children's Books

The Boy and his Bear Necessities

CHILDREN’S THEATRE REVIEW: DISNEY’S THE JUNGLE BOOK KIDS.

Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK KIDS - Photo 1

JUST me and my panther: Mowgli (Kwanda Mtombeni) with Bagheera (Thokozani Jiyane). Photograph courtesy The People’s Theatre.

EASILY THE BEST show yet by the creative team at the People’s Theatre, Disney’s The Jungle Book Kids will have your child jiving in the aisles to songs which may be older than you are. It’s a deliciously messy, rambunctious production in bright colours and loud noises that, with wisely coordinated musical staging and the emphasis on the work’s music ramped up all the way, really flies.

So what you get is a child coined under colonialist ideology in the 19th century, with a contemporary face, a jazzy beat and a relationship with the goodies and baddies of the jungle. While the script is sometimes reduced to inarticulate squeaks and grunts, it’s all in the sense of good clean jungle antics. Arguably, Rudyard Kipling would not recognise his classic under the Disney Kids rubric, but that’s not your problem.

Ultimately it’s a tale in which young Mowgli (Kwanda Mtombeni) is, against his wishes, returned to the context where he can safely grow into manhood, but he does so with a whole gamut of lessons from his animal pals in his heart. From the necessities of life in the opinion of Balloo the bear (Luciano Zuppa), to a spot of human envy from Louie, king of the monkeys (Clive Gilson) and his troupe, not to forget the earnest guardianship of Bagheera the panther (Thokozani Jiyane), and of course the stuff to be avoided, from the likes of the mesmerising Kaa the snake (Bethany-Joy Jiyane) and the antidote to tigerish aggression in the form of fire.

And coupled with a baby elephant (Ntsako Mtombeni) who raises the cute stakes all the way, and a group of very delightful, well-coordinated monkeys in good vocal form, the subterfuges and death defying acts of bravery for this small boy are fabulous. While Kaa’s costume is something that People’s Theatre audiences have seen many times, and feels a little tatty, the work on the whole is a rollicking success.

The play makes use of strobes but they are reined in with an understanding of their effect and are not allowed to blind or paralyse the audience. It’s also curious that there is an interval in this piece, which flows well and rapidly and rather than take the gap, could have been tightened a little, from a narrative and time-based perspective. But with their “shoo-be-dos” and their shimmers, the cast of this lovely show pay tribute not only to Kipling, but also to Walt Disney and Louie Prima, who in 1967 gave the monkey song the scatting finesse you will leave the show singing to yourself.

  • Disney’s The Jungle Book Kids is based on the original book by Rudyard Kipling, adapted for stage by Marcy Heisler and directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith. It features design by Sandy Dyer (musical staging), Coenraad Rall (musical direction), Grant Knottenbelt (lighting, set and audio-visual), Linda Wilson (costumes) and Liam McGregor (sound) and, stage managed by Sizo Tshabalala, it is performed by Clive Gilson, Bethany-Joy Jiyane, Thokozani Jiyane and Luciano Zuppa, and a child cast comprising Stephanie Darley, Dirk Jacobs, Mia Klitzner, Lihle Mahlangu, Lucia Molitano, Kwanda Mtombeni, Ntsako Mtombeni, Cassie Nagle, Henrique Neves, Chidera Nwoha, Sophie Pitman, Talya Storger and Simphiwe Tshabalala at the People’s Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein, until 26 April 2020.
  • This review is premised on a performance of the work featuring the following children: Lucia Molitano, Kwanda Mtombeni, Ntsake Mtombeni, Chidera Nwoha and Simphiwe Tshabalala.
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